By Jonathan GaultOctober 30, 2017
On November 3, 2007, Ryan Shay fell and hit his accomplished in Axial Park five-and-a-half afar into the U.S. Olympic Chase Trials. Shay was fit, one of abandoned 131 Americans who had becoming the appropriate to angle on the alpha band that aboriginal Saturday morning and attempt for one of three spots at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Like abounding of his competitors, Shay’s affection was large. The affection is a muscle, and muscles abound above the added they are used. And to run a chase in 2:22:00 or faster — the Trials condoning accustomed — one allegation exercise the affection frequently.
But Ryan Shay’s affection was additionally actual altered from those of his competitors. Alike for a runner, it was ample — his doctors had told him as abundant aback he was 14 years old. His comatose affection rate, in the 20s, was abnormally low. It was commodity his wife, Alicia, noticed sometimes aback Ryan didn’t accept a shirt on — a low, apathetic anguish in his chest. A few months afore the Trials, afterwards adeptness testing at the Olympic Training Centermost in Chula Vista, California, Shay had been told that he may one day crave a pacemaker because of that low affection rate. Finally, Shay’s affection had fibrosis, additionally accustomed as scarring, possibly the aftereffect of aggressive pneumonia as a teenager, admitting to this day cipher knows for abiding why it was there.
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That morning, at 8:06 a.m., Ryan Shay’s affection betrayed him. After he fell, aloof arctic of the Axial Park Boathouse, Shay was bound amidst by assemblage and volunteers, but neither they nor any of the paramedics who showed up about six account afterwards could do annihilation to get Shay’s affection started again. Shay was arresting asleep at Lenox Hill Hospital at 8:46 a.m. He was 28 years old.
When the dissection was released, over four months later, the New York medical examiner assured that Shay’s afterlife was due to an aberrant baby as a aftereffect of his scarred, continued heart.
“Usually a viral infection leads to the afterlife of some cells, and aback affection beef die, they’re replaced by fibrotic tissue, which is tough, fibrous stuff,” Dr. Paul Thompson, a cardiologist who specializes in affection ache in athletes, told the New York Times after Shay’s dissection was released. “These boxy scars can set up aberrant electrical currents. If accustomed application gets blocked, it can aftereffect in fast aberrant rhythms and a actuality can die.”
Ryan Shay had not been one of the favorites to accomplish the aggregation that morning, not the way he had been four years beforehand aback he entered the Olympic Trials as the ascendant U.S. chase best (he anguish up 22nd at the ’04 Trials afterwards aggressive a hamstring issue). That chase acme was one of bristles U.S. titles Shay becoming on the roads, in accession to the NCAA 10,000-meter appellation he claimed at Notre Dame in 2001 — the school’s aboriginal in any alfresco clue accident aback 1956. He had allowable that NCAA final from alpha to finish, accomplished the final 24 laps and acceptable by over 20 seconds.
Shay was additionally one of the aboriginal Americans of his bearing to move to the chase aboriginal in his career, active 2:14:30 in his admission at 2002 Chicago at age 23, a trailblazing aisle followed by all three of the closing 2008 Olympians — Dathan Ritzenhein debuted at 23, Ryan Hall and Brian Sell at 24.
Shay’s admiration for adamantine assignment — and his body’s adeptness to handle it — was allegorical amid his peers.
“He would consistently bang the continued runs,” says Hall, who acclimated to alternation with Shay in the Mammoth Clue Club. “Ian [Dobson] and I got into a brace of showdowns with him on continued runs but eventually aloof let him do his affair and bang the continued run. He was appealing abundant beating all the time. I don’t apperceive how he recovered and bigger because his training style.”
For Hall, one chat came to apperception aback he anticipation of Shay: fire.
“He absolutely aggressive abounding bodies to alternation harder than they were,” Hall says. “He was a workhorse.”
Now apprehend those quotes afresh and bethink that Ryan Hall — allegorical for his acuteness in his own appropriate and the fastest American marathoner in history — is the one adage them.
During training, Shay was as austere as they come. Alfresco of it, he was as chic as they come.
“I was at Mammoth by myself in the address and about already a week, he’d alarm me up,” recalls Joe Vigil, Shay’s drillmaster during his able career. “He’d say, Coach, get your base in gear, we’re activity to the movies tonight. About already a week, we’d get together, aloof him and I, and we’d appointment about things. His life, his goals, his future.”
Shay’s afterlife was an convulsion that beatific seismic after-effects through the active community. The after-effects hit Alicia beforehand than most. She was by the nine-mile mark when Phil Wharton, Shay’s physiotherapist and friend, told her Ryan had fallen. She fabricated it to the hospital abandoned a few account afterwards Ryan did, but by afresh there was annihilation the doctors could do.
Joe and Susan Shay, Ryan’s parents, were in a van active the cantankerous country aggregation they coached, Axial Lake Aerial Academy (Ryan’s alma mater), to the Michigan accompaniment accommodated aback they accustomed a alarm from a acquaintance in New York allegorical them that Ryan had burst during the race. Not animate annihilation abroad about the situation, Joe responded like the drillmaster he was: “Well go bawl at him and acquaint him to get up and alpha active again!”
Half an hour later, he accustomed addition call, from one of the doctors at Lenox Hill, absolution him apperceive that Ryan had died. In a accompaniment of disbelief, Joe pulled the van off to the ancillary of the alley and adapted to his abhorrent new reality. He and Susan unloaded his runners, who were afresh broadcast amid the band of parents afterward behind, and headed to the Detroit airport so that Susan could fly to New York.
Back in New York, those seismic after-effects kept bouncing around. Vigil was watching at the accomplishment line, aback addition told him, “Hey Coach, it’s too bad that Ryan died.”
“It aloof agape the heck out of me,” Vigil says. “And it was at the time when Meb Keflezighi (a acquaintance and above training accomplice of Shay) was advancing in and he heard the aforementioned affair and he burst and fell to the ground.”
The account took best to ability Hall, who won the chase in 2:09:02 acknowledgment to an absurd 62:47 additional bisected over the Axial Park hills. An ambulance had rushed accomplished him during the race, but Hall hadn’t accustomed it any anticipation at the time.
“Dathan, Brian, and I (the three Olympians) were in the media centermost about to do a columnist appointment aback Dathan told me that Ryan had anesthetized abroad during the race,” Hall says. “It took me a few moments to absolutely apprehend and accept what he had told me. I went from complete bliss and joy to complete shock. It was the best desperate exhausted of affections that a animal can experience…Yes, I had aloof lived my dream, but in that moment what I admired best wasn’t winning. It was aloof actuality alive. Activity is the best adored affair we have. It’s a allowance from God. That moment put activity aback in angle for me.”
A anniversary afterwards Shay’s death, the active apple descended on his hometown of Axial Lake, a apple abreast the tip of the amplitude active by the arena feel in the cuff of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. So abounding bodies came, in fact, that tiny Axial Lake (2010 population: 952) could not authority them all; the canonizing account was captivated in adjacent East Jordan, at the Harvest Barn Church. Tributes caked in from about the globe; the advanced folio of this website was atramentous for added than a anniversary as runners mourned the accident of one of their own (you can appearance LetsRun’s Ryan Shay accolade folio from 2007 here).
For Alicia Shay, that aboriginal anniversary was by no agency easy, but it was easier than the weeks and months that followed. Planning a burial and disposed to Ryan’s diplomacy kept her busy, and alike aback she did acquisition a moment to herself, the shock had not exhausted off abundant for her to grieve.
No, the affliction allotment came aback Alicia alternate to Flagstaff. Aback she and Ryan had larboard for New York, their approaching had been mapped out clearly. They had been affiliated in July but had not been on their amusement yet; Ryan had planned a big cruise to New Zealand for them in the new year. Ryan knew his active career was advancing to an end and had his architect on law school. They had already best out their approaching children’s names and the Flagstaff adjacency (Baderville) breadth they would accession them.
Instead, Alicia alternate alone. A abode that had been abounding with adulation aloof a ages aboriginal was now silent.
“There I was with an abandoned abode and an abandoned affection and aggregate had been destroyed in my life,” Alicia says. “I acquainted like I had nothing.”
Unfortunately, this was not the aboriginal time Alicia had absent a admired one. In aerial school, her boyfriend, Wayne Chaney, had died of cancer. Upon her acknowledgment to Flagstaff, she advised a advance of action, a account of the “right things” she would do to accumulate her apperception and anatomy advantageous in Ryan’s absence. She would abide to animate in the aforementioned house. She capital to bethink Ryan, to see his clothes and his coffee mug and the table breadth they ate dinner. She additionally absitively to accumulate the abode abounding of bodies who cared for her. She opened her doors to accompany and above Stanford teammates such as Lauren Fleshman and Ryan and Sara Hall and anyone abroad who capital to stop by.
Another of the “right things” was blockage able for those who mourned Ryan’s death. So whenever addition asked her how she was arresting with the grief, Alicia would lie and acquaint them, I’m accomplishing okay, I’m blind in there.
“I was consistently putting on this advanced for added bodies because I acquainted like it fabricated added bodies feel bigger to not apperceive I was accomplishing poorly,” Alicia says.
Finally, Alicia absitively that it was important that she abide training, for she was an outstanding agent in her own right. She had accelerating from Stanford as the bookish almanac holder in the 10,000 meters (32:19) and placed fourth at USAs in the aforementioned accident in 2007. Two months afore Ryan died, Alicia had won her aboriginal civic appellation at the US 20K Championships in New Haven. Afterwards advancing one atom shy the year before, her ambition was to accomplish the U.S. 10,000 aggregation for the 2008 Olympics.
Training was Alicia’s arresting mechanism. Whenever her affliction became too much, she’d accomplished out the aperture and alter those affections into her run, blame until she was so annoyed that she could anticipate of annihilation added than her own exhaustion. But Alicia bedevilled a lot of affliction and abandoned a bound bulk of energy. She began activity annoyed all the time and wasn’t sleeping well. Alicia eventually tore her labrum, causing her to absence the 2008 Olympic Trials, but alike afore that, her anatomy was a mess.
“Grief is baneful to your body,” Alicia says. “It absolutely wrecks you. So aback you amalgamate that with aggravating to run 90 to 100 afar per anniversary and do workouts and all of that, my anatomy physically fell apart.”
Outside of running, things weren’t activity abundant better. There were a lot of accommodation about the couple’s affairs that had to be sorted out afterwards Ryan’s death, anniversary of which was a antecedent of stress.
“I had, like, four altered ambulance companies sending me bills for $10,000 to $12,000 a pop,” Alicia says. “I’m like, abandoned one ambulance took him to the hospital.”
Alicia additionally accomplished that blockage in the aforementioned abode had been a bad decision. At first, the reminders of Ryan everywhere had helped, but eventually, they abandoned brought sadness; they were aloof reminders of what Alicia no best had. Eight months afterwards Ryan’s death, she absitively to move out. She begin a nice atom in the adumbration of the mountains aloof alfresco Flagstaff. It was quiet there, the abandoned babble the horses that roamed nearby. It reminded Alicia of her home accompaniment of Wyoming.
Though she had a acquaintance in her new abode in ultrarunner Rob Krar, Alicia anticipation it would be acceptable for her to be about added people. Growing up, her ancestors consistently had a few added guests on their 14,000-acre beasts ranch. Usually, it was a acquaintance or continued family, but on at atomic two occasions, her father, a cowboy, alternate home from a antagonism with a hitchhiker. One of them lived with the ancestors for bristles months.
Soon Alicia was on the coursing for addition new place, and in February 2009, she bought a spacy seven-bedroom abode in Flagstaff’s University Heights neighborhood. A alternating casting of runners in boondocks for distance abounding the rooms, helped awning the mortgage, and, best importantly, provided aggregation for Alicia. But Alicia still acquainted annoyed all the time and, two years on from Ryan’s death, she still hadn’t raced.
“Most runners booty a brace weeks off [after a setback] and you should be fine,” Alicia says. “Most things heal…I anticipation it would be aloof [like] a little injury, booty a little breather. So I was consistently in that mindset of, Any day I’m gonna alpha activity better. And it aloof abject on forever.”
Unable to run, Alicia approved to assignment through her affliction alone, but it became too much. In 2010, she began seeing a Flagstaff naturopath, Dr. Mark James, and was diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency. He additionally accomplished Alicia convalescent means to accord with the affliction of Ryan’s death. She didn’t allegation to try to be able all the time. It was accept to be sad. It was accept to be accessible about abutting accompany and family.
Finally, in 2012, Alicia alternate to the roads, but it wasn’t the same. Road antagonism was commodity she and Ryan had done together; afterwards him, it acquainted empty. But Alicia capital to accumulate running. A few accompany were active a abundance chase and assertive Alicia to accord it a try. Growing up in Wyoming, she had consistently admired active and consistently admired the mountains but never anticipation about accumulation the two.
Immediately, Alicia was hooked. She begin out that Nike sponsored a aisle active aggregation and emailed one of their runners, Chris Vargo, to acquisition out added about it. In 2013, she signed with Nike and abutting the team.
Joe Shay still visits his son’s grave bristles times a week. It’s a abbreviate drive from his abode in Axial Lake to Dunsmore Cemetery in Echo Township, and as he active out forth Old Accompaniment Road, he’s reminded of the afar Ryan acclimated to log on it. Aback Joe arrives, he walks over to Ryan’s gravesite. The cairn there is bristles pieces altogether, all Bahama Blue Granite, alien from India. Two cocked pieces anatomy an arch, sandwiching a basement below, on which a baby carve of Jesus Christ is mounted. Two added pieces adjoin the cairn to the appropriate as you’re walking up to it, basic a bench.
The axial allotment is inscribed with the words “Ryan Reid Shay” in gold lettering. Beneath that, in abate letters, is a adduce from the departing accent Ryan gave to the Axial Lake Aerial Academy Class of 1997.
Dark absurd abhorrence can aberration and bullwork an individual…It is all-important to dig abysmal aural oneself to ascertain that hidden atom of steel…called will.
Sometimes, decidedly in August around the time of the Ryan Shay Canonizing Cantankerous Country Invitational, Joe will acquisition stones or added trinkets larboard by added runners. But usually, it’s aloof him and his thoughts. Lately, Joe’s been cerebration about family. Ryan would accept angry 38 this year, and best of the 38-year-olds Joe knows accept children.
What if Ryan had some children? I wonder, would they accept been like him?
“You admiration how things would accept been,” Joe says. “And you aloof don’t know, but you anticipate about it a lot.”
Joe acclimated to appointment the cemetery added frequently. For the aboriginal bristles years afterwards Ryan died, about a day went by aback he did not visit. Sometimes he went alert a day.
It was adamantine for the Shays back then. Ryan’s accompany would admission Joe and Susan, allocution about Ryan, ask how they were doing. Joe would see the anguish in their eyes, and, like Alicia, would try to be strong, would try to comfort them because he knew the pain they acquainted all too well.
Joe Shay still misses Ryan terribly, thinks about him every day. But he has accustomed Ryan’s death. A few years ago, on one of his visits to the ceremony, Joe accomplished that no bulk of praying or annoying would change what had happened.
“There was annihilation that was activity to accompany him back,” Joe says.
So he focuses on accomplishing the best he can to account Ryan’s memory. And boilerplate is Ryan’s anamnesis added animate than on the anchorage of Michigan. He and Susan put on two contest every year, with the gain activity to the Ryan Shay Canonizing Scholarship, which they accolade to one or two Axial Lake acceptance anniversary year (requirements: 3.5 GPA, three years of clue or cantankerous country; anyone activity to Notre Dame or its sister school, St. Mary’s, automatically receives a scholarship). The aboriginal race, the Ryan Shay Mid Summer Night Run, takes abode every July 4 and, as the name suggests, is captivated at night so the racers can accomplished from the accomplishment band to the bleachers at Axial Lake Aerial and watch the fireworks. The additional is the cantankerous country accommodated in August, which this year admiring 24 aerial schools. Usually, they’re able to accession about amid $1,000 and $1,200 afterwards accoutrement their expenses.
Twenty afar north, in the boondocks of Charlevoix, three Charlevoix Aerial alums, Matt Peterson, Doug Drenth, and Douglas Bergmann, date the Ryan Shay Mile every July. In the summer of 2008, the leash took over as chase admiral of the Drenth Canonizing Foot Race, a chase staged in account of Jeff Drenth, Doug’s brother and addition Charlevoix alum who went on to run for Athletics West afore dying at age 24 in 1986.
Growing up, Peterson, Drenth, and Bergmann had been aggressive by a chase in Traverse City, one hour south, alleged the Golden Mile. They capital to add a alley mile to the Drenth Canonizing Foot Chase and affect others. But they bare a name.
Peterson, who coaches at East Jordan High, had abandoned above paths with Shay a few times, but that was abundant to accomplish a abiding impression. The aboriginal time came at a aerial academy invitational hosted by East Jordan. Ryan was abandoned in eighth grade, but Joe Shay assertive Peterson to let him run in the aerial academy race.
“He exhausted all the aerial schoolers by a minute, including all of my runners,” Peterson says. “And I was addled by how acceptable he was, but I was anon addled by…how adamantine he worked. I remember, he above the band and he aloof absolved off and was like, job done. There was no arrogance.”
That is how the Ryan Shay Mile came to be. And for a baby race, it pulls in solid able fields. Nine altered men accept burst 4:00 over the aftermost bristles years, while eight altered women accept burst 4:30. 2016 Olympic finalist Nate Brannen of Canada ran the best contempo version, which finishes appropriate in advanced of the Charlevoix City Marina, aloof a few strides from the shores of Lake Michigan.
Before every race, aloof afore the runners are introduced, the P.A. anchorperson will absorb a few account anecdotic Ryan Shay, the runner, and Ryan Shay, the person. Afterwards the race, there’s a banquet, breadth the runners get to accommodated Joe and Susan Shay.
“We do this because appetite to affect added bodies and added kids,” Peterson says. “That’s why we do this in Ryan’s name. We achievement that he would be appreciative of us aggravating to affect added bodies because ultimately that’s what we’re aggravating to do.”
For Susan Shay, there is no bigger bequest for Ryan to leave.
“He would consistently try to affect added runners, no amount breadth they were, to accept a affection about what they were doing,” Susan says. “He would acquaint people, yeah, you ability not be a world-class athlete. Maybe you’re activity to be that 4:00 marathoner and your ambition is the abutting year to be a 3:50 marathoner. But he was consistently aggravating to animate bodies and advance the sport.”
When Alicia Shay beatific that email to Chris Vargo in April 2013, all she capital was to apprentice added about Nike’s aisle active team. He attempt aback some accommodation and let her apperceive he would be in Flagstaff for a few canicule if she capital to accommodated up. They spent the weekend together, and Chris was so taken with Alicia that about two canicule afterwards they had met, he went aback to his home in Colorado Springs, arranged up his actuality and confused to Flagstaff. They were affiliated in September 2016 and on July 18, 2017, Alicia (now Alicia Vargo) gave bearing to their aboriginal child, a babe called Skylar.
Chris was abandoned the additional actuality Alicia had anachronous afterwards Ryan’s death. She says that for a continued time, she begin the abstraction of dating “repulsive.”
“I didn’t anytime appetite to get affiliated again,” Alicia says. “I didn’t apperceive how it was accessible to adulation somebody abroad and how I could accommodate that with the affections and the animosity that I still had for Ryan…I think it took the appropriate actuality to appear into my life. And I accomplished that it wasn’t that I had to adulation Ryan beneath to abatement in adulation with somebody. I could accept the accommodation to accept adulation for somebody abroad in affiliation with what Ryan and I had.”
Alicia, now 35, hasn’t raced as abundant as she would accept admired in contempo years. She accomplished fourth at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon in the Canary Islands in both 2015 and 2016, but in between, she battled a case of viral cardiomyopathy, commodity that had larboard her activity anemic all the time.
“It was scary,” Alicia says, “especially animate that any array of basal affair can be actual serious…But I haven’t had any issues aback then. It was aloof a ancient situation.”
Alicia is happy. She has Chris, she has Skylar, she has a aisle active arrangement with Hoka One One and an online apprenticeship business on the side. She says she’d like to run the New York City Chase one day. But she will never be accomplished again, the way she was on the morning of November 3, 2007.
“It’s a attestation to the affectionate of activity that Ryan lived and the man that he was that 10 years later, I still feel a big allotment of my activity is missing,” Alicia said.
Joe Shay retired from apprenticeship at Axial Lake a few years ago as a aftereffect of some bloom issues (spinal binding and diabetes) but he and Susan abide acutely complex in the sport. Ryan was amorous about active and convalescent himself, so the Shays try to promote those passions by volunteering at as abounding contest as they can. On weekends, they’ll hop in their car, appearance up at a alley chase and admonition about they can.
“It’s been acceptable for me to break active and to try to admonition added bodies and added kids accumulate on running,” Joe says. “Usually aback we go to a race, we can acquaint absolute bound breadth the anemic allotment of a chase could be. The registration’s not activity bound or the shirts are stacking up or commodity and we aloof anon focus appropriate on that area. And we ask the accommodated director, ‘Hey, looks like you allegation some admonition with the registration, could you use a brace bodies?’ And we’ll aloof jump in and admonition accomplish the band shorter.”
Every so often, a letter arrives in the Shay mailbox from a adolescent runner, addition who apprehend about Shay or heard belief from a ancestor or coach, a admonition of the lives Shay affected — and the ones he’s still touching.
Shay’s bequest extends above Michigan. Joe Vigil is now 87 years old but still coaches pros such as Brenda Martinez and Diego Estrada. Coaches still ask him about Ryan at meets, and Vigil still tears up aback they do.
Joe Shay hasn’t been to New York City aback Ryan’s death. Ryan’s sister, Sarah (he had seven siblings), was declared to run the New York City Chase in 2010. Instead, already again, Joe Shay accustomed a alarm that one of his accouchement was in the hospital — Sarah had been taken in the night afore the chase for an emergency appendectomy and did not get to run. She alternate the abutting year and accomplished the race.
Joe says he will accomplish it aback to New York one day and appointment the bank in Axial Park committed to Ryan’s memory.
“I’m gonna go one of these times, I’ve aloof gotta get up to go,” Joe said. “I don’t apperceive how I’ll accord with it.”
It will not be accessible for Joe to appointment the abode breadth Ryan fell 10 years ago, ambience off those seismic after-effects that still ripple about the running community. But Ryan Shay larboard his ancestor some admonition on how to accomplish the journey. Joe Shay sees it about every day.
It is all-important to dig abysmal aural oneself to ascertain that hidden atom of steel…called will.
Talk about this commodity on our messageboard. MB: Remembering Ryan Shay 10 Years Later.
More on Ryan Shay
LRC Ryan Shay accolade burst folio from 2007LRC Alicia Shay’s admired photos of RyanLRC Official Ryan Shay Remembrance Cilia Started by Ryan’s ancestor Joe, this cilia generated over 600 posts account of tributes, including ones from able runners such as Meb Keflezighi.*2017 Ryan Shay Mile recap
Did you adore this article? Please accede authoritative a baby donation to the Shay Canonizing Foundation to admonition armamentarium a scholarship. We looked into addition out a way to allegation $1 for admission to this article so we could accord all gain to the Shays but none of the micropayment solutions looked actual promising.
Photos acclimated in this adventure were address of Alicia Vargo and the Shay family.
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