The Men’s Marathon Trials lived up to its billings. A tough course, a great race, and 15-20,000 cheering fans running around the course on this blistery morning made for one memorable race. I am now sitting in the Chicago airport, on my way home, reflecting on the race, the outcome and for this column, the death of Ryan Shay, all of 28, who collapsed just off the course at 5.5 miles….
Walking around the large loop showed the heights and lows of the Olympic marathon course. This was one really tough course. That Ryan Hall ran a 2:09:02 on this course is mind boggling. Dathan Ritzenhein rose to the occasion and ran a personal best on
the course, taking second in 2:11.06. Brian Sell, running his own race, like he has done in the past, overcame a huge deficit of a minute plus and took third in 2;11.46.
This course was extremely challenging. The turns, the hills, the ups and the downs of this course challenged all 134 runners (104 finished). 134 of the best runners in the United States.
One of the best runners in this group was Ryan Shay. I am not sure if I have ever had a one on one conversation with Ryan, but I had the privilege of watching Shay race on several occasions-his 28:40 at the Stanford Distance Classic in 2001 was one that comes to mind.
Ryan Shay was coached by Joe Piane of Notre Dame, where he gave Notre Dame it’s first NCAA title over 10,000 meters. Joe was very proud of Ryan, I remember him very happy with Ryan’s 28:40 at the Distance Classic. Piane has been the cross country and track coach for 33 years this season, I believe. I met Piane way back in 1980, as Notre Dame hosted the National Catholic Cross Country Invitational, and I, the assistant coach at Santa Clara that year, competed in that race with our team. Joe was quite gracious then, and has been warm and supportive to me over the past twenty seven years. When he spoke to me of Ryan, there were always superlatives. Knowing that he had some excellent athletes ( Chuck Aragon comes to mind) and that Joe was not one who over dramatized, I remember noting that I should put Ryan on the short list to watch.
Ryan was coached by Joe Vigil during his professional career. His half marathon championships opened eyes, and then his 2003 US marathon championship, held on the 2004 Birmingham course, showed his promise. In 2004, Ryan was injured and his 23rd place did not give an indication of his promise or the challenges that such a tough race made on an athlete.
Ryan continued to develop over the past four years, bringing his marathon personal best down to 2:14:09, his 10,000 m personal best to 28:18, and his collection of national titles continued to grow. He had been training with Abdi Abdirahman in Flagstaff, Arizona for three months, then moved to Coach Piane’s summer cottage in upstate Michigan for low altitude training, before the Trials.
Ryan Shay was running for the Saucony company, one of the top running footwear brands and a brand that was starting to support young, up and coming athletes. I was standing with a few of the Saucony folks when we heard that Ryan had fallen, and there just was not more information available.
I saw the ambulance leave the course about 8.30 or so, and was not sure still what was going on. I hoped for the best. How could a young athlete like Ryan be taken down in his event? This did not make sense.
After that, I headed over to the finish, to watch the final lap of the marathon and see if Ryan Hall could hold on ( he did), Dathan hold onto second ( he did) and where Brian Sell would catch third (not far after that).
I had just watched the top fifteen finish, when someone told me the terrible news. Ryan Shay had collapsed just off the course, past 5.5 miles. Attempts were made for over thirty minutes to revive him with no success and at 8.46 am, at Lennox Hospital, Ryan Shay was pronounced dead.
Mary Wittenberg, the CEO of the New York Road Runner’s club, announced the terrible news at the Marathon press conference. Mary had known Ryan since her graduate school days, having spent many afternoons running with him on the Notre Dame campus.
Ryan’s parents were in Michigan, on their way to the state cross country meet, where two of their athletes were running. They were reached by phone on their way to the meet, and told Ryan had fallen, then that he was taken to the hospital, and finally the saddest news of all, that their son had died.
In one report, Terrance Mahon, who had coached Ryan at Mammoth for much of his career noted that Ryan, like most runners, would have wanted to go doing something he loved. Dathan Ritzenhein, the second place athlete in the marathon trials, noted that Ryan would have wanted us to focus on the living, not the dying.
Ryan had been married just since July to Alicia Craig, the former Stanford runner, a good friend of Ryan Hall and his wife Sara Hall. All of 28, he had much promise and much more of life to live.
I do not recall, in my life experience, loosing a young distance runner like this in an Olympic Trials championship. This has shaken me, and I believe many, many others. I do not know what to say or how to console someone in such a case.
Ryan Shay’s life was all of 28 years. He was a tough, Midwestern runner, who succeeded beyond many of our wildest dreams. He was from a loving family and his friends, his family, his wife, and his many fans, will sorely miss him.
In closing, I wanted to finish with a note from Shawn Love, one of the moving forces behind club running in Missouri, who wrote me a very thought note on Ryan Shay. I think it might express many of the sentiments felt:
‘This country lost a national treasure, in the death of Ryan Shay. What a great personality, and a great talent. We were honored to have Ryan in Kansas City when Terry and Lisa Drake brought him in for the Half Marathon Championships. There’s a HHR
poster hanging in my office that Ryan signed for me. While I ran into Ryan on occasion at different events, I cant really say we even knew each other. But, he was part of the family; the family of runners, the family of Olympic hopefuls. He loved to run, like we all do. He was one of us, and I’ll miss him. And that poster; it’ll be hanging around for
awhile.’ Shawn Love, Kansas City Smoke TC
I am not sure what else to say or comment. I had planned to come home Saturday night to host my son, Adam’s twenty first birthday party. It took on more meaning after the day’s tragic happenings. I told Adam about the tragedy, as he knew something was wrong when he picked me up at the airport. I tried to stay close to his couple dozen friends as they hung out at our house, watching movies, munching, and enjoying each others’ company. How does the song go? ” Life is what you make it.?”
Ryan Shay put alot of life into his 28 years. Because he was so full of life, we will miss his presense, his spirit even more……
NBC sports.com video of Ryan Shay, courtesy of NBC sports.com: http://video.nbcsports.com/player/?id=178673#videoid=177348
Print news story on Ryan Shay: http://www.2news.tv/news/national/10995436.htmlhttp://