Friday, August 8, 2008

Ryan Shay and the spirit that pushes us all

For anyone who has any hobby, sport, or something they train for there has to be a type of motivation. Something inside of them that drives them and pushes them to go further than they ever imagined. For me, as a runner it is the story of Ryan Shay.

Of any of the gifts or personality traits that I may possess, my tenacity and ability to doggedly push myself is the trait I am most proud of. I do not look like a runner to some. I may not be as fast as many of the runners I train with or run with, but I feel that I can match tenacity, intensity or the desire to compete with anyone. And this is where Ryan Shay comes in.

Ryan Shay was an American marathoner, who died at the 2007 US Olympic marathon trials after 5.5 miles from a heart malfunction at the age of 28. He was the type of runner that other elite marathoners would envy due to his training regimen and ability to push himself. He had no lower gear. He possessed that Steve Prefonatine ability to realize that his strength was his strength. He was one of the rare athletes that could make it appear that it was 100% effort and guts, with little or no natural talent. The truth was that he a record setting high school and collegiate career and was immensely talented, but it was through his work ethic that I began to follow his career and become a fan.

As I watched the Olympic marathon trials and learned of his death, it affected me deeply. I was shocked with how sad it made me feel. The only way I could process what had happened was to go out for a long run and try to sort through my feelings. That was going to be his day, he was going to achieve his goal of qualifying for the Olympic marathon team. It was going to be a day that all citizen runners like myself could be proud of and celebrate. But it didn't happen and all we were left with was what could have been.

I was too young to have watched Steve Prefontaine, another great runner cut down in the prime of his life, but I had Ryan Shay. Since that day I have had a picture of Ryan Shay posted on my fridge and give him a high five as I leave for my (mostly) daily runs. When ever I am having a hard time, or thinking of quitting during a run, I think of him. What he left behind is the spirit that inspires myself and others like me to go that extra mile when you don't think you can and to sprint up that hill when you want to coast. I wish I could thank him for that, all I can do now is just honour his life with my effort.

So while watching the opening ceremonies for the Olympic games I felt a twinge of pain, thinking he should be there. I cannot imagine what his young wife or family might have been thinking.

I will be watching the Olympic marathon and cheering for Brian Sell, Ritz, and Ryan Hall hoping that they can bring home a medal for Ryan Shay. I have a feeling that by the end of the Olympics, everyone and just not those in the running community will know the name Ryan Hall. He is going to do what Frank Shorter did for running in the early 1970's and bring running back up to the level of prominence it deserves in the public eye and inspiring the next generations of Ryan Shays and Steve Prefontaines. It will also give me a much needed boost leading into a very busy fall schedule in life and running.

Once again good luck in running and life and which ever races you choose to run.