On a slow day at work, 20-year-old Ryan Hanson was killing time – as he often did – by making a mental list of things he was bad at and wanted to improve on.
His thoughts drifted to growing up during the height of the yo-yo’s popularity and the fact he had never made the toy go down and back up. The realization gnawed at him, quickly commanding all of his attention.
Less than nine months later, he was travelling the country as a professional yo-yoer for The NED Show.
Hanson’s rapid escalation from novice to professional epitomizes what he calls the “yo-yo formula” - the all-or-nothing approach he takes to his career, family life, hobbies and, at times, even his diet. While yo-yoing wasn’t the first kick Hanson applied this method to, it was certainly the most unique, and it showed him what he was capable of doing given the time and effort.
The frustration of not being able to work a yo-yo led Hanson from his Verizon Wireless store upstairs to the Air Traffic store in the Burnsville Center in suburban Minneapolis. He picked up a beginner yo-yo and a few pointers from the clerk. Within the day, he was able to work the yo-yo, but he didn’t stop there.
“I got bit by the bug,” said Hanson, now 35 and a regional sales manager at SportsEngine. “I went down a rabbit hole of making this thing work, and soon enough I was practicing all the time – three to six hours a day.”
His yo-yo kick coincided with the emergence of YouTube in 2000, and he watched yo-yo videos online, learned the basics and challenged himself further. He was astonished by the tricks professional yo-yoers were doing. The frustration of not being able to do them motivated him to practice until he could. He took advantage of the high ceilings at the mall and insisted that he and his ex-wife find an apartment with vaulted ceilings, giving him ample room to swing the yo-yo above his head for tricks such as Around the World.
Name: Ryan Hanson | Age: 35
Resides in: Burnsville, Minnesota
Family: Wife, Raquel; sons Jackson (12), Anderson (9), Harrison (4), Hudson (2) and daughter Hope (5).
Job: SportsEngine Regional Sales Manager
Interests: Family, reading, Vespa scooters, hunting with Boykin spaniels (Major and Maggie) and -- his current kick -- hockey (hoping to return for achilles tear in time for 2017 U.S. Pond Hockey Championships).
Hanson grew up in Winona, Minnesota, playing baseball, basketball, football and golf. He dreamed of becoming a professional athlete but shifted his focus toward religion while attending North Central University in Minneapolis. During his college years Hanson taught himself how to yo-yo and within nine months was hired as an entertainer for The NED Show. For nearly a year, he travelled the country showcasing his yo-yo skills and spreading The NED Show principles (Never give up, Encourage others and Do your best) at elementary schools. The self-proclaimed "former professional athlete" is known for taking an all-or-nothing approach to his work, family, hobbies and diet.
Ryan Hanson's latest "kick" is hockey. He was skating several times a week in multiple men's leagues before tearing an Achilles tendon in June.
Within months expert and master level tricks had become second nature to Hanson. Aaron Gruber, a member at Hanson’s church and professional for Seattle-based All For KIDZ, Inc., encouraged Hanson to try out for The NED Show.
NED (an acronym for “Never give up, Encourage others and Do your best”) was founded in 1989 by Arne Dixon, formerly a renowned demonstrator for Duncan, who wanted to shift the industry’s focus from selling product to include the well-being of the children buying yo-yos. Dixon hired professional yo-yoers to travel to elementary schools all over the world and promote the company’s principles.
Hanson was qualified not only as a yo-yoer, but as a communicator and motivator, and he became one of 10 yo-yo professionals for The NED Show in 2001. The job required six weeks of training – for yo-yoing and public speaking – including three weeks of tag-team shows with Dixon.
“The three weeks I spent with him are some of the more informative training experiences I’ve ever had,” Hanson said. “He’s got more heart and passion for what he’s doing than anyone I know.”
For seven months Hanson travelled across the United States performing up to three shows a day. The shows lasted between 45 minutes and an hour, and consisted of yo-yo and magic tricks, pop culture references, the NED principles and, without fail, the same question from every audience.
“When you play the yo-yo as much as I did you get pretty comfortable with advanced tricks, but no matter what people always ask, ‘Can you walk the dog?’ ” Hanson said. “I always liked to say, ‘I just walked the dog down the street, and he went poop in your yard!’ to the kids.”
Ryan Hanson traveled the country doing yo-yo exhibitions at elementary schools in 2001.
Hanson enjoyed entertaining and informing the kids, and especially loved it when he could see the impact he was making. At one show, he called a young girl with glasses on stage, gave her a balloon hat and made her the star of the show – a routine part of the act. After the show, a teacher asked how he knew to select that particular student.
“I swear it was random,” Hanson said. “They later told me she had a condition that she was going blind and could go blind at any second. The teacher said that might be one of her last visual memories. That’s one of several examples of how we touched kids and knew we inspired them.”
On September 11, 2001, Hanson was in Albuquerque with Dixon when the World Trade Centers were attacked and air travel became nearly impossible. The two rented a car and drove to Michigan to continue their tour, but the event amplified Hanson’s exhaustion from travelling constantly.
“I remember being home for one day in a four-week period of time because of the issues with flights,” Hanson said. “I felt like a professional traveller, and that’s why I ultimately decided to hang up my strings. I got sick with pneumonia in January (2002), and I decided to come back home and return to the cell phone business.”
Hanson entertained nearly a quarter-million children during his seventh months with The NED Show. He left the industry with hundreds of yo-yos and the joy of being able to justify calling himself a former professional athlete.
Lindsey Hanson, who was married to Hanson from 2000 to 2009 and can still recite “Never give up, encourage others and do your best,” watched him apply the “yo-yo formula” to various aspects of his life while they were together.
“We met in college at North Central University – a bible college in Minneapolis,” Lindsey said. “That would have been during his God-kick. I’m a Christian too, but I was like ‘Woah – this guy is spiritual.’ He had made a pledge he wasn’t going to date for a year, so we ‘didn’t date’ until that year was over. I met him with like four months left in his pledge.”
Lindsey remembers a Sprite kick, during which Hanson exclusively drank Sprite, that just happened to follow his no-pop-at-all kick and precede a chewing gum kick. Hanson said he also played on a semi-professional team for the Xbox game Halo, which involved scheduled military-style training sessions.
“He’s very passionate about new things – it’s an all or nothing thing,” she said. “He’s all in, and then it’s done. The thing with his kicks was that he ended up being really good at whatever he was doing.”
. . . when push comes to shove he’s the guy you want working on your project. He’s going to get it done or die trying.”
- Ryan McIntosh, SportsEngine Sales Representative on Ryan Hanson
On several occasions, Hanson’s kicks have found their way into the SportsEngine office. Ryan McIntosh, a member of Hanson’s sales team, first noticed it when they sat next to each other and shared a snack drawer.
“He would go through kicks where it was popcorn every day, then oranges for three months, then freeze-dried raspberries for three months and then on to the next thing,” McIntosh said.
Then, there was the month and a half when Hanson played one song – White Iverson by Post Malone – multiple times a day, and insisted his sales team listen with him.
“Whether it’s a distraction or a task – he’s lasered in,” McIntosh said. “At work, it’s definitely a good thing, because when push comes to shove he’s the guy you want working on your project. He’s going to get it done or die trying.”
Ryan Hanson and his wife, Raquel, have five children ranging in age from 2 to 12.
Hanson’s wife, Raquel, noticed the same thing, especially when it comes to sports. His current kick, since skating for the fifth time in his life in the United States Pond Hockey Championships in January, is hockey. Before tearing an Achilles tendon in June, Hanson was skating between three and five times a week.
“He’s online all the time looking for open ice,” Raquel said. “He wants to go every night, and I have to say ‘Hey, I want to see you.’ But I went out and watched him, and I’m amazed at how good he is for only having been doing it for five months.”
Although she didn’t know Hanson during his yo-yo career, Raquel said she has no trouble picturing him putting on a NED show in her head because he seems to enjoy being in front of crowds. His talents even played a part while they were dating.
“He definitely showed off, and I was amazed,” Raquel said. “I had never seen anyone do tricks that he was doing. We were Facebook friends, and I saw a yo-yo picture of him – it’s something that I really love about him. I love telling people about it, because everyone knows how quirky he is, and if I can tell them about the yo-yoing it plays into that.”
Hanson, a father five children between the ages of two and 12, seems to have passed on his athleticism and all-or-nothing approach. His oldest sons Jackson (12) and Anderson (9) have been on a football kick for months and hardly let their dad walk in the door before asking him to play catch.
Hanson said he’d like to teach his kids to yo-yo if they are interested, but he is more concerned with sharing the NED principles.
“At that age (20) those simple principles didn’t mean much to me, but now that I’m 35, it doesn’t sound too bad,” Hanson said. “It’s simple, easy to follow, and there are times when I remind myself that those simple things are important.”