Meet our leadership team and the people dedicated to our mission.
RYAN SHAZIER, Founder
Any professional football player, let alone a linebacker, must learn resilience to succeed in the game. For Ryan Shazier, the ability to bounce back and thrive comes naturally.
Despite unexpected challenges throughout his life, Ryan has met his goals, silenced his doubters and served as an inspiration to fans across the world. Now, he is turning that motivation toward increasing funding, resources and support for spinal cord injury (SCI) patients.
Ryan knew from age five that he wanted to make it to the NFL, but it wasn’t long before he faced his first significant obstacle. He was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes partial or total hair loss. Through the taunts and bullying, he didn’t let the disease get him down or shy away from his dream. He embraced it as part of who he was and let his play define him, not outsiders.
After high school, he left his sunny home state of Florida for the rough weather up north, joining college football powerhouse Ohio State, where he immediately made an impact, starting as a freshman at linebacker. In three years with the Buckeyes, Ryan recorded 315 tackles, 208 solo tackles and 14.5 sacks.
That success made him a perfect fit for the Steelers, who selected him in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He didn’t disappoint, becoming a star playmaker known for his speed, smarts and instinctual nose for the ball. He made the Pro Bowl in two of his first three seasons. Over 46 games, including 41 starts, he recorded 299 tackles and had seven interceptions.
Then it all changed. During a Monday night game in Cincinnati on Dec. 4, 2017, Ryan suffered a spinal contusion, or a crushing of the spinal cord. The nerve signals in his spine were disrupted, paralyzing his lower body and necessitating emergency spinal stabilization surgery. Doctors said he had a 20 percent chance of walking again, but for Ryan, this was just another obstacle to overcome.
After 130 spinal rehabilitation sessions, Ryan not only gained back strength to walk, but he was able to dance with his wife at their wedding just two years after the devastating injury. Moving on to the next chapter of his life, Ryan is now making it his personal goal to help SCI patients get the treatment they deserve and meet their own goals through the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation.
With Ryan on their side, these patients have a supporter who understands their struggles and a teammate who won’t let them down.
CAROLINE BOYCE, Executive Director
Caroline Boyce moved to Pittsburgh from London, England at the age of six and has considered herself a Pittsburgh native ever since. She brings 30 years of experience in leading nonprofit organizations in executive roles and as a change consultant.
Her most recent work includes service as Interim Executive Director with diverse organizations including the Arch Street Meeting House Preservation Trust, Cliveden of the National Trust, the Maternity Care Coalition, and the PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She also served as transitional executive director at the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.
With a BA from Connecticut College and an MA from Cornell University, Caroline specializes in assisting nonprofits that are starting up or going through significant transitions. She is a Certified Board Source Nonprofit Governance Consultant, a graduate of the Support Center’s Interim Executive Director program, and a graduate of Leadership Pittsburgh.
Caroline’s outside interests include cooking, architecture and Pittsburgh sports teams. A long-time Steelers fan, Caroline is delighted to join Ryan Shazier’s team to advocate for the victims of Spinal Cord Injuries and advance the agenda of this new and dynamic organization.
CAROLYN SLAYTON, Program Manager
Carolyn is a born and bred Pittsburgher and has spent most of her life in the east end. She attended the University of Pittsburgh where she majored in Anthropology, Business, and Political Science. Carolyn then made her way to Duquesne University where she completed her law degree and masters in business administration.
Carolyn spent several years practicing law before joining the nonprofit world as a programming associate at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. She brings 7 years of experience in the nonprofit programming and event planning space with her to the Fund.
When she isn’t working she enjoys exploring all that the city has to offer with her husband and 2 sons. This includes lots of visits to the zoo, the museum of natural history, and typically a restaurant or bakery that is on the way.
CHRISTOPHER FLETCHER, Organizational Advancement Manager
Chris Fletcher serves as Organizational Advancement Manager for the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation and is responsible for all aspects of fundraising and outreach. He brings more than 20 years of experience in fund development, publishing, web-based content and marketing.
Prior to joining The Ryan Shazier Fund, he served as Chief Marketing Officer for RC21X, a start-up in the health and wellness space. He was responsible for all branding and messaging and helped secure more than $1 million in funding.
Chris was also the founder and Chief Content Officer of boutique firm Chris Fletcher Marketing & Communications with clients including The Pittsburgh Pirates, The Heinz Endowments, Delta Sky magazine and the Pittsburgh Film Office.
He also served as Director of Development for The Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, where he raised more than $2 million for educational services for deaf children. He’s also the former Vice President of Publishing and Internet Services for public media company WQED Multimedia. In that position he negotiated the first agreement among PBS stations for sharing digital content directly to users’ home computers. He grew the division from being a single-title company to a full publishing organization—including books, specialty publications for the bridal, business and travel markets. During his tenure as publisher and editor of Pittsburgh magazine, the publication was recognized by the City And Regional Magazine Association as the “Best City Magazine in America.”
Chris holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism and Speech Communications from Duquesne University and has been a frequent presenter at national magazine publishing conferences.
ZAINAB SHERIFF, Administrative Assistant
Zainab was born and raised in the Pittsburgh area where she has lived and grown professionally and personally. She joins our team with six years of experience across various industries, including non-profit and healthcare, that have strengthened her expertise and knowledge. She will dedicate her positive attitude and tireless energy to support the RSFSR team.
Displaying a strong value for advocating and service to others, she is excited to join the team at the Fund. Drawn to our mission, Zainab is excited to support SCI individuals and their families. She continues her passion for knowledge in social justice as she works towards her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work.
While enjoying a life work balance, Zainab enjoys traveling with friends, spending time with her sister and great nephews, as well as diving into a good book or discovering a new TV show to enjoy.
CATHY COFFMAN, Content Writer
Cathy Coffman is a lifelong Eastern Pennsylvania resident, having grown up outside Philadelphia in Delaware County, PA, and settling later in N. Chester County, PA.
She brings more than 25 years of professional writing and editing experience to The Fund. Cathy started her career with The Chilton Company’s “Automotive Industries’ Magazine,” Later, she wrote for myriad of technical, trade and consumer publications as both a staffer and freelancer.
Cathy earned her BS in news-editorial journalism from West Virginia University, with a minor in jazz saxophone.
Cathy came to The Fund while researching her own spinal cord injury, which she obtained in March 2020 via a simple trip and fall accident. She has a unique perspective when interviewing fellow spinal cord athletes warriors for The Fund’s “Shalieve Stories” because she is living with the challenges and successes that the injury creates.
In her spare time, Cathy enjoys attending live music, theater and sporting events, hanging out with her three adult children and her husband, and (yes) going to physical and occupational therapy. Her goals to be able to play her saxes and clarinet—but if that doesn’t pan out, she’s contemplating learning the vibraphone.
JENNA NACE, Social Media Manager
Jenna Nace began interning with the Fund while finishing up her Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Arts and Sports Management. She now joins the team serving as the Communications Specialist where she is able to combine her two passions into one.
As a recent graduate of St. John’s University in Queens, NY, Jenna grew a strong interest in marketing, social media and communication services. She enjoys supporting The Fund’s mission and building relationships through the power of social media.
She also specializes in internal and external communication work and creating collateral marketing materials. Jenna is new to the non-profit industry but is excited to learn and grow while being a part of such a strong mission. She knows that The Fund will change lives and that’s something worth working for.
Outside of her work, Jenna’s interests include watching sports with her family and friends, relaxing on the beach, and dance. She has been a competitive dancer for over 15 years. During the MLB season, Jenna works as a staff member for the Philadelphia Phillies. Having sports as a lifelong passion, Jenna is excited to be an advocate for Ryan’s team and join the fight for individuals with Spinal Cord Injuries.