I am spending three hours in the Denver Airport on my way to Austin, Texas. I was able to spend a few hours with my son this morning, and then head to the airport. It was a good time to consider the year in distance running, Ryan Shay, who is buried tomorrow, and the fragility of life.
It is one week after the Men’s Marathon Trials and I am sitting in the Denver airport.
A quiet, Saturday, made for introspection. This morning, I spent clearing off my office desk, preparing for my trip to the Running Event in Austin, Texas.
It has been a very long year. Starting back last January, I have been at marathons, track meets, both indoor and outdoor, and will end with cross country events, notably, the Border Clash and the Nike Team nationals. A long year, but a good year. A very good year for American distance running.
This past August, we had Kara Goucher take the bronze in the women’s 10,000 meters. With a lap to go in the 5,000 meter for women, we had Jen Rhines and Shalane Flanagan in the hunt. In the men’s 1,500 meters, we had Alan Webb and Bernard Lagat, with Lagat taking the gold. In the 5,000 men’s, we had Bernard Lagat winning again, and Matt Tegankamp missing the bronze by the minutest of margins.
Then, we get to November 3. The U.S. marathon Trials were a spectacular event. The five loop, criterium-style course, run mostly through Central Park, was the vision of David Katz, a prominent race director in the Metro New York area. The course was challenging, and not many people thought that there would be anything faster than maybe a 2:13 and that would be pushing it.
Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell conquered the course and stood out of the 134 starters. 104 finished. Hall dropped a series of miles from 14-17 that showed he is the U.S. marathoner who can medal in Beijing. Dathan Ritzenhein showed that he can perform when the stakes are high. Brian Sell showed that alot of hard work, the vision of coaches, a team and some help from a shoe company, can go a long way.
Then, when all is going so well, we are smacked with reality. During the marathon trials, at 5.5 miles exactly, Ryan Shay collapsed and died, at the age of 28. Ryan Hall, Dathan and Brian heard about his death about twenty minutes after the race, and of course, it changed the way all felt about the day. Ryan Shay was well liked, well-run, and his vitality and presense, just a few hours before, was silenced forever.
In a story published in the New York Times by Jere Longman, that came during the following week, Alicia Shay, the former runner from Stanford, and Ryan’s wife of six months, heard on the phone that Ryan was hurt, and ran all the way to Lennox Hospital to find her husband. By the time she got there and into the emergency room, she knew Ryan was gone. His family, his friends, his former training partners all over the country would hear during day of his death, and the fragility of life would again be slammed right into our faces.
I flew back right after the race, to host my son’s twenty-first birthday party. More than anything, I needed to be back to see him and tell him I love him. In a sport that celebrates the ability to run, jump and throw, we sometimes forget that those performances are more than numbers, more than times, more than distances-they are the work of living, breathing people, who come from big cities and small towns, big families and small families, lots of friends and small circles of friends. Our sport
celebrates a life well spent, chasing silly things, like jumping farther, sprinting or running faster, or throwing longer. It is those silly things that give us our humanity, and our life. It is those silly things that gave Ryan Shay, and his 133 other friends, the focus to pursue their dreams for the past four years.
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