Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ryan Shay--May 4, 1979 - Nov. 3, 2007

Ryan Shay in action at the 2005 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. /photo by Paul Merca

Like many people in the running community who were in attendance on Saturday, or who followed the progress of the runners at the US Olympic Team Trials-Men's Marathon in New York, I was positively stunned at the passing of Ryan Shay at the 5.5 mile mark of the race.

My race day in New York started off well. I opted not to shoot the start at Rockefeller Center, but instead walked from the Sheraton Manhattan to Tavern on the Green to get myself set up.

Once the race got started, I ran with my camera and saw some familiar faces from Osaka! It was cool hanging out during the early part of the race with Adam & Kara Goucher, who were getting hassled by the overzealous NYC cops for not having credentials...great shooting the breeze.

I had to leave them as the runners entered the west side of Central Park to run to the east side and shoot them. After I left Adam & Kara, ran into Bernard Lagat & his coach James Li, and Sean Hartnett of Track & Field News (one of my cohorts in Osaka at the Hotel Chuo). We all found out at the same time what happened to was spooky when we saw the ambulance leading the pace truck around the 10k mark.

As the race progressed it was more running from one side of the park to the other to catch the progress of the race. The race between spectators from one side of the park to the other was just as fun to watch as the race on the pavement of Central Park! I should've turned on my iPod Nano and counted my mileage running with my camera.

About 1 1/2 hours into the race, I ran into Dena Evans, who went to Mercer Island HS, then ran & coached at Stanford, and was running the NYCM the next day. She helped coach Alicia (Craig) Shay, Ryan's wife at Stanford. I felt bad that I had to break the news to Dena about Ryan.

After the field finished the race, and did the post race interviews with Mike Sayenko and Sean Sundwall for Northwest Runner, I went inside Tavern on the Greem for the post-race press conference, which was quite awkward.

Apparently the top 3 guys were told about what happened to Ryan (turned out only Ryan Hall & Dathan Ritzenhein knew, but not Brian Sell), but were asked not to say anything until Mary Wittenberg, the CEO of the NYRR made the announcement; however, Ryan Hall started to say in his opening statement words to the effect of his sorrow over what happened when his mike conveniently went out.

The press conference went on for close to 30 minutes, until someone asked the runners to comment on Shay...Richard Finn, the NYRR pr guy tried to deflect the question away, but Ryan Hall answered it anyway...and that's when Mary Wittenberg made the announcement.

The video of the press conference is here...

While the team members were talking, I was going thru my photos to see if perchance I had any shots of Shay (I didn't think I did).

Although I'd known about his death for at least 90 min., I didn't want to call back to Seattle until there was official confirmation. After Mary announced it, I was on the phone to Martin Rudow, as we had some decisions to make on how we were going to do the story...

Here's part of what I wrote:

I worked with Ryan as a member of two United States national teams, as Team USA’s media liaison at the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in Edmonton in 2005, and at this year’s World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya.

Ryan missed his flight from Arizona to Edmonton, so he was routed through Seattle. On the Horizon Air plane for the short flight to the Canadian city, we spent the time talking about his passion for Notre Dame, where he graduated in 2001 with two degrees in economics and computer applications, and its football team, which had beaten the University of Washington in Seattle the week before 36-17 in coach Tyrone Willingham’s first game against the Irish since he was fired at the end of the 2004 season.

Here's a photo of Team USA after our sightseeing tour of Mombasa, Kenya. Ryan is standing, sixth from the left. /photo by Paul Merca

After picking up our luggage and walking to the IAAF family holding area at the airport, one of the volunteers escorted us to a courtesy car for a ride to our hotel, explaining that we would have to wait for two more passengers. The two passengers turned out to be 2004 Olympic 1500 and 5000 meter winner Hicham El Guerrouj and his agent. Shay was genuinely thrilled to sit and talk to the greatest middle distance runner of the current generation.

In Edmonton, Shay finished fifteenth in 1:03:13, the highest placing by an American in that event.
This past spring, Shay was one of the leaders of an admittedly depleted Team USA cross country squad that traveled to Mombasa, Kenya for the world championships, where he finished 99th over the 12k distance, running 41:12 over extremely hot and humid conditions.

In Mombasa, I was extremely impressed not only with the way he helped counsel and interacted with members of the junior men’s team, but also with the rest of the Team USA squad, which had may new faces competing for the first time on the international stage.

For every member of that team, the trip to Kenya was probably the most eye-opening experience of our lifetime, as we went through one of the poorest parts of Mombasa on the team bus on our visit to St Peter’s The Rock School for special needs students the day before the meet, where the team presented the students with shoes collected before the trip.

A few hours after competing, Ryan, Matt Gabrielson, and I sat in the hotel lobby talking about our week in Kenya, and how it had opened our eyes. We all agreed that we wished we had brought with us basic necessities like toothbrushes, personal hygiene and school supplies to give to the kids.

Summing up our trip, Shay said that every one of us should be grateful for the things we have in our lives.

I am grateful to have known Ryan Shay.


Sean said...

Very touching. Thanks for sharing.

prague said...

What a wonderful tribute to Ryan Shay. What a sad story. We came to New York as a family to support our son S.Sundwall who also ran in the Trials. We didn't hear about this tragedy until we all got back to the hotel. We feel for the family, particularly his wife. What a shock for her. Thank you for sharing with all of us your impressions and experiences with Ryan so we could all get to know this young man better.

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