A Toolkit for Survival
Krista Ryan survived the Vegas mass shooting. And now the life coach is using that experience to help her clients overcome their own challenges.
Krista Ryan survived the Vegas mass shooting.
And now this life coach is using that experience to help her clients overcome their own challenges.
As 10 p.m. approached on the night of October 1, 2017, the Route 91 Harvest Festival party was closing in on its grand finale.
Byron residents Krista Ryan and her husband Chris swayed among a sea of 22,000 other country music fans. They sang "God Bless America" in unison, cell phones held high to light an inky desert sky already glowing with the unrelenting neon of the Las Vegas strip.
As headliner Jason Aldean took the stage, Krista felt alive, electrified, utterly at peace. Five minutes later, briefly separated from Chris and the two other couples they’d traveled with, her phone died.
Five minutes after that, the shooting started.
"Some people thought it was fireworks but I immediately thought, ‘Something is not right here,’" says Krista, in her first interview since the tragedy. "We went from that pure bliss moment to complete chaos. It turned the night so dark that it felt like all the lights went out."
The shooting—that "rapid-fire barrage of bullets"—felt like it lasted for hours, says Krista.
Later, she’d learn it lasted 10 minutes.
But during those 10 minutes, her body took over: She clasped the hand of a hysterical stranger—a woman who only spoke broken English—and those two sprinted through the makeshift battlefield. "Just keep running," Krista kept telling her. "No matter what happens to me, just keep running."
The two of them climbed a metal fence that had been set up for concert security. A fence that had been set up to keep people out. "I had no idea how I did it," says Krista. "The next thing I knew we were both over it."
Krista pictured her three children—then ages 11, 9 and 7—waiting back home with her in-laws. She imagined her husband, with no way to reach her, still in harm’s way looking for her—or worse. She feared for the two other couples they had gone to the concert with. She thought of her loved ones, including her work family at First Security Bank, the Byron business where she and her husband had worked for over 13 years.
She and the stranger kept running.
Today, when she looks back at the scene, Krista describes a slow-motion, black-and-white horror movie, a festival-turned-war zone, silent save for the gunfire. But that’s not what has stayed with her.
"What sticks out in my mind is there were people everywhere, just complete strangers, helping each other out," she says.
Later, after she’d been home for a few days, she’d find an entry in her calendar on October 1: "Life changed."
She doesn’t remember writing it, only that it has become truer than she ever could have anticipated.
Now, it seems serendipitous: At the same time she was processing what happened in Vegas, she was also working on her year-long certification program to become a life and business coach. Two weeks before this fateful night, she’d completed her first training session at the Newfield Network school in Colorado.
"I was given this opportunity. I don’t want to use the word gift, because it wasn’t a gift," she says. "But it was a toolkit for survival, in essence."
In her role as marketing and human resources director at First Security Bank, where her husband is CEO and president, Ryan had informally coached their employees for years, both individually and as a group.
She loved it so much that she decided to make it official and enrolled in Newfield Network, a year-long certification program grounded in ontological distinctions, a branch of metaphysics that focuses on emotions and body language. She was all charged up, reveling in the lessons and the opportunity to receive coaching herself as part of the program’s mentorship component—until the shooting.
"I came home and called my coach and said, ‘I think I’m going to drop out of the program,’" says Ryan. "And he was very understanding. He’s ex-military and coaches a lot of veterans and he said, ‘Yes, you’re probably in shock, and you’re going to need some time to process and I’m here to support you.’ And so he was an instrumental part of this."
That is when Krista’s real education began. As she, her husband, and their friends processed their respective experiences, she began to realize that everyone experiences trauma—not necessarily a mass shooting, but death, divorce, job loss—and that unaddressed past experiences hinder future progress.
"Part of coaching is asking tough questions and really listening to what they’re not saying," she says. "My coach was really transparent with me and helped me process things slowly. I started listening to the way my body was processing things, and instead of staying quiet and internalizing, I started to speak about it. And I think through telling the story, I started to heal."
Krista stresses that she is not a therapist, and regularly refers clients to psychologists and psychiatrists. But she knows what it’s like to feel scared, trapped, and victimized—how those feelings manifest in the body, and how freeing it is to face them.
She began to feel empowered by what she’d been through and the idea that she could help others. She recommitted to the program and completed her certification.
"I started to understand that I now had to make a choice. Am I going to be a victim? Or am I going to take what happened and own it and accept it and utilize it for my future? I think that was the turning point," she says. "That’s really where I stand today, helping people see that we have choices, and it’s all about accountability for your life."
In June 2018, she opened KFG Coaching. As a "mindset coach," she works with personal and business clients individually and facilitates staff trainings.
Despite the emphasis on addressing past trauma, Ryan insists her coaching is forward-focused. If clients can recognize what is holding them back, she can help them move forward.
"I don’t see myself as a tough coach, but as a transparent coach who’s not afraid to ask the tough questions," she says. "I think that comes from what I went through."
On that October night, Krista and that stranger made their way to a gas station, where the woman called her daughter to pick her up. When the daughter arrived, she begged Krista to come with them. To drive to safety.
But Krista Ryan started running back toward the concert, trying to find her husband and their friends.
She didn’t get far. A group of people stopped her, pulled her behind a ground-level billboard advertising some Vegas magic show or cabaret.
"I’ve got to find my husband, I’ve got to go back," she told them. "My phone is dead."
One of the women in the group called Chris. No answer. She kept trying. Finally, Chris answered. They dropped a pin on the phone to mark Krista’s location. Chris and friends started running toward her.
They had, obviously, been through their own ordeal. "We’ve all got our own stories," Krista says. Chris and their friends had helped others find a way out of the venue, applied pressure to others’ wounds, crafted makeshift tourniquets. Looked for Krista. None of them was injured.
When they finally got to Krista it was "no movie-like reunion," she says. Instead, they all ran to the MGM Grand Casino for shelter. There, in the bathrooms, they cleaned off blood. Wondered whose it was.
On the one-year anniversary of the shooting, the Ryans flew back to Vegas. As their taxi rolled down the Strip, they passed the 1,500-acre Las Vegas Village concert field, saw the fateful Mandalay Bay windows where the shooter had fired 1,100 rounds in those ten minutes. In the end, 851 people were injured.
Fifty-eight were killed.
Krista Ryan and her husband and friends had survived the deadliest mass shooting committed by a single individual in modern U.S. history.
Krista saw the sign she’d crouched behind with the woman whose cell phone she borrowed to call Chris. Chris pointed out the spot where they’d finally been reunited.
"The flood of memories came flying back, but it wasn’t scary," she says. When the cabbie shared his own stories of driving injured victims to the hospital, he said he’d never really lived his life until that night. "And I said, that’s exactly how we feel. Like we were living life before, but now it just tastes sweeter."
The Ryans visited the remembrance wall at the new Las Vegas Community Healing Garden, and had lunch with the woman who’d helped Krista phone Chris. She’s never found that stranger she ran with. But she hopes she is healing.
"This one gentleman [the shooter] made this horrific decision to try to end lives, but I think so many lives started. So many people were helping each other and there was so much good in such a bad moment," she says.
"Everyone has a story and no one should be afraid to tell it, because it makes them who they are."