College student uses lockdown to build a roller coaster in his grandparents' backyard

Megan Johnson
·3 mins read
Dr. Fred Silverblatt rides the backyard roller coaster constructed by his grandson, Elliot Ryan. (Photo: Elliot Ryan)
Dr. Fred Silverblatt rides the backyard roller coaster constructed by his grandson, Elliot Ryan. (Photo: Elliot Ryan)

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Elliot Ryan found himself with some extra time on his hands.

A sophomore civil engineering student at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., Ryan found himself living at his grandparents’ house in North Kingstown, R.I. after students were sent home due to the pandemic. But Ryan decided to make good use of the excess time to do something he’s always dreamed of doing: building a backyard roller coaster.

“Ever since I was really little, I’ve always wanted to build a roller coaster. I was always really into it,” Ryan, 20, tells Yahoo Life. “I’ve always known I’ve wanted to go into engineering, specifically roller coasters, and when the pandemic came around, I was stuck at my grandparents’ house, and I just got the idea again.”

Elliot Ryan's roller coaster winds through his grandparents' backyard. (Photo: Elliott Ryan)
Elliot Ryan's roller coaster winds through his grandparents' backyard. (Photo: Elliott Ryan)

To make his dream a reality, he started drafting up plans back in April, and began building by May using materials from the playscape his grandfather had installed in the backyard when Ryan was just a kid. Over the next several months, he and his cousin built off the structure, using wood and screws they purchased at Home Depot.

Elliot Ryan works on his roller coaster. (Photo: Elliot Ryan)
Elliot Ryan works on his roller coaster. (Photo: Elliot Ryan)

Ultimately, Ryan constructed a 10-foot-tall, 150-foot-long roller coaster that winds throw his grandparents’ backyard while the rider sits on a wooden seat with wheels on the bottom. While Ryan himself has taken endless rides on the coaster (“when I first finished it, all I wanted to do was ride it,” he says) the inaugural rider on his construction was none other than his 83-year-old grandfather, Dr. Fred Silverblatt, a highly respected infectious disease specialist.

“The first official rider was my grandpa. He was a little nervous at the top. He was, like, looking down and was thinking, ‘Do I really want to do this?’ I told him it’s fine, it’s safe, and then he just did it,” says Ryan. “He said it was awesome and congratulated me, and it seemed like he had a lot of fun.”

The ups and downs of the roller coaster are oddly fitting considering the tumultuous nature of the pandemic.

“It kind of does fit, in a way,” says Ryan. “The process in which I built it and everything, it’s really fitting for that.”

Family and friends ride Elliot Ryan's roller coaster. (Photo: Elliot Ryan)
Family and friends ride Elliot Ryan's roller coaster. (Photo: Elliot Ryan)

Always one for adventure, Ryan says he’s hardly done with his creation. He’s planning on expanding the coaster even more.

“Oh yeah. As much as I can if I am allowed to,” says Ryan. “There’s a lot of space, and I’ll go as far as I can, maybe make it an actual roller coaster.”

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