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Ryan Sheibley setting an example in the beard world and for his son

Because he’s kind of a big guy, once packing on more than 250 pounds of muscle thanks to workouts with boxing and some martial arts, Ryan Sheibley has always been perceived as a tough guy. He was also an Air Force police officer before he destroyed his ankle chasing a suspect so he came home to work as a bouncer and even a repo man.

Then there’s the beard. He started growing it to look a little meaner, to appear a bit more intimidating and maybe giving an aggressive drunk a reason to reconsider for a split-second.

However, everyone who knows the 1993 Homestead graduate understands he’s not nearly as rough as he sometimes likes to portray. He’s a super-nice family man and the guy who gives everything for friends and most anything else for anyone else in need.

But right now he really needs to be strong, determined and focused. He’s dealing with some health issues, and they are going to prove if he really is tough.

“Things have gone a little sour the last couple of months,” Sheibley said recently. “I’m struggling with some things. I have to do what I have to do for the next 16 weeks to make sure I’m here for the next 16 years at least.”

For about 14 years, Sheibley has been battling ulcerative colitis, a debilitating disease which has no cure and can affect every part of life. That includes weight loss, abdominal pain and cramping, fatigue and all sorts of bowel problems, including a colostomy bag.

Because of some radiation and other treatments, Sheibley figured he couldn’t father a child, but he and his then-girlfriend Liz welcomed Jaxon eight years ago. The responsibility and love straightened dad up enough that he began closely following doctor’s suggestions and his health improved.

“Life was hard for a lot of years, but the little man popped up and changed everything,” he said.

And then four years ago, Ryan took Jaxon to his first Cincinnati Reds game when a man approached, noticed Sheibley’s beard and asked who he was competing with and what club he was a member of. Sheibley had no idea what the man was talking about. He had never before heard of beard competitions which take place year-round all over the country, raising money for charities.

Sheibley entered his first contest on a whim in December 2015. He had no idea what he was doing, and had only been growing his bright red beard a couple of years but won his first title a couple months later. Now he has more trophies than he has room, though Liz and Jaxon buy him racks for Father’s Day gifts. Over the last year, he finished first or second in 34 or his last 35 competitions and finished second in his category last September at the World Championships in Austin, Tex.

“I get to be a happy, fun-loving guy and forget about life for a little bit when I go to one of these,” Sheibley said. “I walk away from them, and it’s an emotional drain. What it renews in me is that I never feel sorry for myself.”

And he gets to wear costumes and really cut loose with his personality. Usually, he goes as the “Ginga-Ninja” by wearing a bright green leprechaun suit with hat. At the world championships, he wore an authentic, specially made Amish outfit.

And the very best part? Jaxon, now 8, absolutely loves it.

“The first thing I do when I look at a competition is find out if it is kid-friendly,” Sheibley said. “If not, we Facebook Live it so he gets to see it, and then he critiques me on what I should have done.”

Recently, Sheibley came out wearing a soldier costume and yelled, “America! People died so I could do this kind of stuff.” As soon as he fired off the fake gun, Jaxon threw a bucket of Army men into the crowd.

“I like to play it up and have fun,” Sheibley said.

Now Sheibley is sponsored by Mad Viking Beard Company and now Jaxon is also competing in kids divisions. He can’t wait to start growing his own beard and talks about how he can see one or two “whiskers” when looks in the mirror. Every few days, dad is not surprised to find little fingerprints in his balms and oils as Jaxon has been rubbing his face trying to rush puberty.

It’ll take a few years for Jaxon to match his dad’s 24-inch growth. Liz trims a couple inches every six months, though she’s holding onto her rule of no mustache or no kisses.

“It makes him happy and has made him deal with life better,” Liz said. “The bearding community is one of the most welcoming communities I have ever had the pleasure of being part of. The joy and happiness this has brought to our lives is irreplaceable. The smiles that it brings to both Ryan and Jaxon’s faces is the part I live for.”

That includes a dedication to charitable works, making regular visits to food-packing events for “Kids Against Hunger.” Jaxon loves that, too, but he really loves being part of dad’s competitive life. There are a whole lot worse things in life than to have your dad as your hero.

“I never knew how much I could teach him and show him until I got involved with this,” Sheibley said. “It’s given me a new focus.

“I always hid from my colitis. I was embarrassed because it’s the crap disease. Now I throw it all out there to raise awareness and support, and I would guess 99.9 percent of the beard people worldwide know what I’m going through and they continually give me fantastic support. Everyone sees it and they message me.”

And Jaxon absorbs everything, proud of his dad and happy to be allowed to share in the bearding world. He knows dad is plenty tough enough for anything.

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