What the Cost


David Yon,


I pay attention to the world of elite distance running, so I knew a little about Ryan Shay. He was a talented runner who worked very hard at his craft, but one who had battled injuries and therefore not reached his full potential. But I had no idea the impact his death would have on the elite distance running community. Clearly, from the outpouring of emotions reflected on web sites and in newspapers he was a class act and his death during the Olympic trials marathon hit many very hard. His death brought back some tough memories of losses in our own running community and a reminder that running and fitness alone are not enough to guarantee health.

Shay had a reputation for pushing himself to his physical and mental limits – of truly giving it his all. The 28 year old was only 5 to 6 miles into his effort to make the US Olympic marathon team when it appears his heart said “no more.” At that point he was probably still running quite comfortably, steeling himself for the miles beyond “the wall” when his mind would try to push his body to its extreme limits. Immediate medical care was not enough to keep him alive. His death impacted his close friend and training partner Meb Keflezighi (an Olympic Silver Medalist) who said that Shay’s ability to push through pain far exceeded his own. The tragedy left Keflezighi wondering if he could ever push as hard in his own training again.

Every day the world seems to demand just a little bit more from each of us as we move at a faster and faster pace. For many of us running is a way to try and keep some sanity to this process. But moments like these make us stop and think about it all – in Ryan’s case “us” seems to be a very large part of the running community. Ryan’s father, Joe Shay, was quick to say though that his son died doing what he loved.

One memory the news awoke was created April 5, 1999, the day that Craig Hasty’s heart betrayed him while on a run. Craig was a local runner and friend who never fit the norm and there were people who wondered if he was just a little crazy. He made quite a sight at races in his camouflage pants (and some times boots) with a deadpan serious look on his face. And if you ever made Craig’s “hero” list you learned to wince and look for a place to hide when you saw him coming. He could heap incredibly embarrassing praise on other runners; but it was just his way of reaching out. If you knew him, you knew his heart was made of gold. He always found a way to give 110% effort in his races and as a volunteer. No one ever called mile splits with more conviction. “If I can help a runner pick up just one second, it is worth it,” he explained. Craig was always hard on himself in races and believed every race he had to give it 110%. It was a key part of his training during his time in the marines and just became part of his persona. My favorite memory of Craig occurred during the 1997 Tallahassee half when a group of us, 4 or 5, caught up to Craig in the last couple of miles of the race. He was suffering mightily and slowing down on the brutally difficult hills that marked the end of the race. Instead of running past him, the group decided to encourage him to the finish. He responded with tremendous courage, not wanting to let his friends down. He chanted one of his favorite phrases “Semper Fi” and other motivational phrases while he huffed and puffed. I can assure you he left nothing on the course as he went charging to the finish and an age group award. He never stopped thanking us for that help. We were all doing something we loved.