Like everyone else, I was shocked to hear about Olympic marathon hopeful Ryan Shay’s tragic death during last weekend’s Olympic trials but this tragedy hit me even closer to home than most others due to the fact that I myself, am a distance runner. No, I never ran professionally nor did I run varsity in college, I simply participated in cross-country/track in high school and competed on a club cross-country team at Penn State. Nonetheless, ask anyone who even runs a couple times a week and they will all tell you just how much this tragedy hurt them.
Not only is the distance running community rather small but it is the only community I can think of off the top of my head where everyone from the casual 50-year-old runner who participates in the local 5K road races to the serious Olympic-caliber marathoner who trains twice a day feel like they share the same thing in common. Just observe two runners of any caliber talk to each other sometime and they will instantly know what the other is talking about when it comes to the physical/mental aspects of the sport whether its dealing with injuries, finding new running routes, or figuring out the best way to pace yourself in a race. Moreover, road races have the potential to lump together the elites and the average Joes in the same event, something that very few sports can lay claim to (No, poker doesn’t count).
This is why when news of Shay’s death was announced last Saturday, it created a shockwave that affected the entire running community: From those few Olympians who will be setting foot in Beijing next year to compete against the world’s greatest, to the many folks like myself who will simply be setting foot on the nearest trail to be one with nature…and maybe chit-chat with our running buddies while doing so.
Rest in peace Ryan.