One of our company's sponsored athletes, Ryan Shay, died today at the Olympic Trials in NYC at the age of 28. It's shocking and strange and very sad to read this news.
I'd only met him a couple times, but he was in the office for a visit about 6 weeks ago, while in the area to compete in the Falmouth 5K, and met with us all to talk about what it's like to be training for the Olympics and being sponsored by our company. He was a really nice guy, had a good sense of humor about the "interview" format of our meeting, and passionate about his sport. He was also a recent newlywed, having married another runner about 6 weeks prior to his visit. A very sad loss for his wife and family and friends, and for everyone else who followed his career.
The picture above was taken at Falmouth. (Courtesy of Letsrun.com)
From the New York Times:
A triumphant United States Olympic trials marathon turned tragic on Saturday morning when Ryan Shay, a 28-year-old veteran marathoner, collapsed during the race in Central Park and was pronounced dead at Lenox Hill Hospital.
It put a terrible twist on the victory by Ryan Hall, who exulted in the emotion of winning the race and capturing an Olympic berth. But he had no idea that the ambulance that had passed him on the course earlier was carrying his good friend and occasional training partner, a man whose wedding he had just helped celebrate in July.
Shay collapsed at the five-and-a-half-mile mark near the Central Park boathouse, relatively early in the 26.2-mile race, and he was pronounced dead at 8:46 a.m., stunning the sport on a cool, crisp morning that seemed perfect for a marathon. The death was announced by Mary Wittenberg, president of the New York Road Runners, which staged the race. The medical examiner’s office said an autopsy would be performed today to determine the cause of death.
Shay’s death came a day before the running of the New York City Marathon, which will have more than 38,000 competitors attempting the grueling event on a course that winds through the city.
The Olympic trials were supposed to be its triumphant prelude, and Hall’s victory — in 2 hours 9 minutes 2 seconds — was a spectacular performance that announced him as a leading contender for a medal in the Beijing Olympics next summer. Hall, 25, had run only one previous marathon. Dathan Ritzenhein, 24, finished second, and Brian Sell, 28, captured third to take the other two Olympic spots.
The news of Shay’s death reached Hall about an hour after he won.
“I was just shocked when I heard,” Hall said. “It’s hard to believe a dream comes true and that I lost a friend today.”
Hall and Shay were close friends, and their wives, also professional runners, were so close that Hall’s wife, Sara, was a bridesmaid when Ryan and Alicia Shay were married in July. Hall and Shay had much in common and helped drive each other toward the dream of making the Olympic team. Hall called Shay, known throughout track and field for his vigorous work ethic, one of his biggest inspirations.
Their paths crossed one last time on the marathon course as Shay was being rushed to the hospital. His ambulance whisked past Hall, who was at the front of the pack of runners.
“I had no idea,” Hall said. “When I heard the news, I just couldn’t believe it.”
Wittenberg said Shay had received immediate medical attention, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillation before being taken to the hospital.
“He crossed right in front of me and stepped off the course,” the runner Marc Jeuland of Chapel Hill, N.C., told The Associated Press. “He nearly tripped me.”
Jeuland said he did not see Shay collapse.
Shay was a five-time national champion at distances ranging from the marathon to the 5,000 meters. He was considered a strong contender to finish among the top three here and earn one of the Olympic berths.
His coach, Joe Vigil, said he did not know of Shay having any health problems.
“He’s strong physically, probably the strongest runner out there,” Vigil said. “Physically, he was healthy, never had anything happen to him.
“He was the epitome of an athlete, lived clean and trained hard, set high goals. Everything you’d ever want in a boy, he had it.”
Shay grew up as one of eight siblings in East Jordan, Mich., and had been training in Flagstaff, Ariz. He graduated from Notre Dame in 2002. He was introduced to Alicia two years ago, while both were in New York for the marathon.
“They were just inseparable,” Sara Hall said. “She had a boyfriend die in high school, and that was really hard on her. Her running sort of took a back seat. But she was doing really well. Now, I’m sure this will be so hard too.”
Alicia Shay had been on the course watching her husband. Her parents were here also, but Shay’s parents, Joe and Susan Shay, were not in New York.
“Given the tragedy, we’re O.K.,” said Sally Craig, Alicia’s mother. “We’re thankful we’re here. We’ve had tremendous support already. There’s just no way to express it.”
The running community was stunned by the news. There were no weather-related worries about the race — as there were in last month’s heat-shortened Chicago Marathon that left one competitor dead — and heart problems that strike marathon runners usually do not happen to 28-year-old world-class athletes.
“It’s heart-wrenching,” Wittenberg said. “These things happen, but they’re not supposed to happen at the height of an athlete’s life and career and on one of the biggest days of their career. There must be a reason for it all, but it’s certainly not clear to us right now.”
Shay had been training for the past five months in Flagstaff alongside Abdi Abdirahman, a race favorite who dropped out with a leg injury after about 18 miles.
“I warmed up next to him this morning,” Abdirahman said. “I was the one complaining instead of him. He was looking good. In the race, I was looking around at 10-13 miles to see where he was. I expected him to come up because I knew he was in good shape.”
Other runners expected Shay might be celebrating an Olympic berth with Hall.
“I thought today would be his day,” said Meb Keflizighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist who finished eighth. “He had trained very, very hard to make a breakthrough. He’d lost a lot of weight, and was ready to go. I really thought that today he was going to have a breakthrough because he likes it when it’s windy, cool.”
The race began at 7:35 a.m. on Fifth Avenue outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The temperature was in the low 50s as the sun rose over the city near the start. It was ideal weather for a marathon, in which heat often causes health problems among runners. Similar weather is expected for today’s marathon.