When I first met Ryan Asdourian, I had no idea I was hanging out with a celebrity. In fact, he may be one of the most recognizable faces in all of Seattle.
Never heard of him? How about his alter ego?
The Seattle Seahawks team mascot, Blitz.
I asked Ryan about his most memorable mascot moment. "I got to jump off the roof of what was then Qwest Field. I kind of swan dived there, and ziplined across the whole stadium," Ryan recalls, "That was pretty neat."
Ryan first got involved with the Seahawks after moving to the Seattle area to work at Microsoft. He had prior mascot experience as the University of Florida Gator, and it just so happened a local sports team had an opening.
"I reached out to Blitz at Seahawks.com and I got a response. The guy happened to be leaving," Ryan explains, "He said, ‘Hey, I'm roommates with the Mariner Moose, you wanna grab a beer?' and I said absolutely. It was perfect."
7 years later, he's still wowing the 12th Man in a fierce mask and feathers, entertaining thousands of cheering fans during home games at Century Link Field.
"It is the greatest job in the world. I truly believe that."
Ryan never expected to face the next challenge in his life. It started with a tingling sensation in his feet.
"That tingling kind of moved up my body into my legs and my stomach. It lasted for days. I went to the doctor, didn't know what to expect. After a number of tests and MRIs I found out I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis."
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society says there are more cases of MS in the Pacific Northwest than almost anywhere else in the world. There's no known cause, no known cure, and no proven reason for why it is so prevalent in Washington.
Ryan says initially, he didn't talk about his MS. "It takes a while to internalize any sort of diagnosis like that. And that's what I did for a while," Ryan pauses, "Somebody gave me the advice, when I was talking to them about telling people, just think about how and when you do it. Because you can really only tell them once."
Of course, this outgoing, successful NFL team mascot didn't stay silent for long.
"I worked with the Seahawks to come up with a great way to raise awareness and money by getting involved with the National MS Society, and starting a team, which we call Team Blitz," says Ryan.
Take away the electric blue costume and beak, Ryan is still a larger-than-life kind of guy, with a huge smile and obvious enthusiasm for his new passion: Raising money for MS research.
"If you talk about it, you find there's a lot of people here in the Northwest that are connected to MS, whether it be themselves, or their family member or a friend."
Team Blitz has raised more than $225,000 over the past three years.
"This Saturday (March 16th) we're going to have our fourth pub crawl, which is looking to be over 400 people. I can't tell you how excited I am about that," Ryan says.
The crawl starts off at 2:30 in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood, and includes a silent auction with Seahawks and Sounders gear.
The money, and all the Team Blitz funds raised for the MS Walk coming up on April 14th, go directly to the National MS Society.
Ryan hopes Team Blitz helps to keep MS research moving toward a cure.
Ryan explains that when he was first diagnosed, there were only four FDA-approved drugs for MS patients. Five years later, "There are now nine FDA-approved drugs. Just incredible speed and growth in the drug space," he says, "You're seeing that a lot of people are dealing with less symptoms because of that. And that's really why we do what we do."
One of the things that's most rewarding for Ryan is meeting other people who face an MS diagnosis.
"I get to talk to people who might be dealing with more MS symptoms than I'm dealing with today," Ryan explains. "I think that I'm able to bring them some hope. I'm able to show that you can lead and live a full life after a diagnosis of MS."
With Team Blitz, Ryan has shown that he doesn't have to wear a mask to inspire a crowd.
"I get a lot of fan mail from different kids after I visit a school," says Ryan, "A student wrote, ‘My brother says you're number zero for loser, but I told him you're number zero for hero," he laughs.
Buy your tickets for the pub crawl, or sign up with Team Blitz for the MS Walk at www.BlitzTacklesMS.com/pubcrawl