Chanman's Blog

In Memory of Ryan Shay

Ryan Shay running the 2007 Twin Cities Marathon

It was three years ago on November 3, 2007 during the Men’s US Olympic Marathon Trials race that Ryan Shay collapsed and died around the five and a half mile mark. The Shay family is a running family. There were eight kids and they all ran at Central Lake High School. Three years later, despite the tragedy, running is still a big part of their lives.

Shay’s parents Joe and Susan were coaching runners from Central Lake High School at the Michigan state cross country meet when their son Ryan died. In an AP story that ran in 2007, Joe said he saw an online interview about his son the night before the Olympic Trials race and got an urge to catch a 5 A.M. flight to New York to surprise him. Instead he stuck with his original plan, to coach his high school runners. “God, I regret it,” he told the Associated Press. Driving to the meet that Saturday morning, the Shay’s received a call saying Ryan had fallen down during the race. Then came a second call with worse news: Shay’s heart had stopped. After the tragic news, Kari Johnson of Central Lake placed twenty-fourth out of 254 runners in the Division 4 race at the Michigan state cross country meet. This weekend, the Shay’s will again be coaching at the Michigan state cross country meet, with one boy (Jordan Becker) and one girl (Anastasia Bragg) qualified to compete.

Ryan’s sister, Sarah Shay, will be in New York this weekend running her first NYC Marathon. Sarah, 34, ran her first half marathon last year and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with Lupus. Despite the condition, that is aggravated by sunlight, and its side effects (headaches, joint pain, and skin rashes), Sarah will run this year’s NYC Marathon to honor her brother’s memory.

Ryan’s widow, Alicia Shay, is a national level runner herself. She was a two-time NCAA champion at 10,000 meters while at Stanford University. Alicia and Ryan married on 7/7/07, meaning they had been married for less than four months when Ryan died. New York conjures up many memories for Alicia. It is where she first met Ryan after the 2005 NYC Marathon. And of course, it is where she last saw her husband in 2007. Since the tragedy Alicia has understandably struggled with running, training, and racing. But she will be in New York this weekend to cheer on Sarah as well as her sister’s husband. In an interview with the New York Times, she says, “If I could run the New York marathon, where Ryan and I met, where Ryan breathed his last breath, yes, that would be full circle — and sad, and incredible, and all those things. That would be a dream. That would be an absolute dream.” In that same article it is mentioned that Alicia is a coach for a group called The Run Smart Project and that she is running 60 miles a week and may be close to making a return to racing.

Ryan’s youngest brother, Stephan, is now 24-years old. At the time of Ryan’s death he was a 21-year old on the Brigham Young University (BYU) cross country team. Immediately after the tragedy Stephan flew home to be with his family. But less than one week later he rejoined his BYU teammates and was slated to run at the NCAA Mountain Regional Meet before flying back home for his brother’s funeral. Sadly, Stephan came down with food poisoning and did not race. But BYU placed fourth and qualified for the NCAA Championships. At the NCAA Championships, BYU wore black wristbands inscribed with the words “believe in yourself” (those were the words Ryan shared with a fellow runner at the start of the Olympic Trials Marathon). Stephan wore red gloves that said “Ryan Shay” on them. Ryan’s alma mater, Notre Dame, wore the same red gloves at the NCAA Championships also to honor Ryan.   

One fortunate thing for Stephan was that he had a great coach, Ed Eyestone, who could help console him through this difficult time. Ironically, Eyestone was doing commentary for NBC television at the race where Ryan died. Eyestone was able to offer amazing support to Stephan because Eyestone himself lost a brother while he was running in college, just weeks before a big NCAA race.

Now Stephan is following in his brother’s footsteps as a professional runner. Stephan runs for the Bay Area Track Club and is coached by Magdalena Lewy-Boulet. He has had a slew of top fifteen finishes this year in USA championship road races, and in October he represented the USA at the World Half Marathon Championships in China. One race that is on Stephan’s radar – the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials.

Ryan Shay was only twenty-eight years old when he died three years ago. Shay’s college coach at Notre Dame, Joe Piane, said that three words come to mind when he thinks of Shay, “focus, discipline and sacrifice.” Please take a moment on November 3, to say a prayer, or have a moment of silence, or raise a glass in memory of Ryan Shay.

Here’s to Ryan Shay and the traits of focus, discipline, and sacrifice.


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