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|A little more than a year ago, Ryan Hall had never entered a marathon. Now, he's headed to Beijing.|
One of the people Ryan Hall will be running for at the Beijing Olympics is Ryan Shay. Shay was a young man on a mission. An elite marathoner, Shay was trying to make the U.S. Olympic team. But, on Nov. 3, 2007, during the fifth mile of the men's U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Manhattan, Shay fell to the pavement, dead of a heart ailment. He was 28.E:60's Lisa Salters sits down with Ryan's widow, Alicia, to explore Shay's promising career and sudden death. "I just think about him all the time," Alicia said. "I'd like to say that I feel his presence with me all the time, but in all honesty, there is a huge void of his presence ..."
• Watch E:60: 'Born to Run'
Ryan tired after the first 12 miles, but his father sternly forbade him to whine, and he finished the run. "After that, there was nothing else," Mickey said. "He was like a wild stallion. You had to hold back the reins." All these years later, Ryan still looks back on that day as the moment "God opened up my eyes to running." "I got this idea and I acted on this one idea, and it changed the whole trajectory of my life," he said. It wouldn't be his last act of faith. Young Ryan quickly fixated on the Olympics, carving the iconic five-ringed logo into a Halloween pumpkin and writing his athletic goals in freshly poured concrete. Mickey said his son never missed a practice no matter the weather. Ryan built a stellar high school running career, winning state track and cross country titles and excelling in particular at the mile distance.
He met his future wife, Sara, at a regional prep meet; by fate, they both were Stanford-bound. They began dating the first week of their freshman year and have been inseparable since. Sara Hall is a candidate in her own right for the U.S. Olympic team and will try to qualify for the 1,500-meter event at the U.S. trials in June in Oregon.
Yet, Ryan's first two years at Stanford proved to be rocky terrain. When his competitive results didn't live up to his own high standards, he felt unmoored. He and his younger brother Chad, also a talented runner, camped out to watch the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento; Ryan described himself as depressed and out of shape at the time, disgruntled he was a spectator instead of a participant. "I was struggling with my personal worth," he said. "As an athlete, it's easy to associate how valuable you are with your performance." He took a break, went home and, in his words, "re-evaluated where I was finding my identity. I decided to make faith the center. Things didn't instantly get better, but I felt Stanford was where I was supposed to be." Ryan Hall finished his four-year college career as the NCAA champion in the outdoor 5,000 meters (and later completed his degree in sociology, as well). He and Sara married in 2006 and moved to Mammoth Lakes, Calif., to train with an elite group of U.S. runners, including two Olympic marathon medalists, Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor. Hall's family used to vacation there, and it's an environment much like the one in which he grew up, including the altitude.
|Earlier this month, Ryan Hall finished fifth in the London Marathon (2:06:17), the third-best showing in history by a U.S. man.|
After the U.S. Olympic Trials, Hall and his wife -- a close friend and former Stanford teammate of Shay's wife, Alicia -- took time to reflect on a vacation to Israel, then spent three weeks with Alicia at her Arizona home. Hall clipped an achingly poignant newspaper photo of himself and Shay that was taken just before the starter's gun went off in New York and keeps it between the pages of a book he uses for Bible study.
The image isolates two young men in a group, one blond, one dark-haired, looking poised, tense and, endearingly, boyishly eager all at once. It is a captured instant that one can stare at forever and still not grasp what happened next. "I'll definitely be thinking about him on the start line," Hall said. "That's where he was hoping to be. It would be awesome if I could do something special there for Ryan. The picture reminds me it could have been me. I'm doing my best to see the Olympics as an awesome adventure and not pressure." Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.