Friends plan to honor Shay by running NYC Marathon

Updated: October 26, 2008, 5:34 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- On a cold November morning in northern Michigan, the grieving teammates did the thing that had brought them together.

They ran.

It reminded them of those cross country practices in college, when they first got to know Ryan Shay, when they first were inspired by him.

Later at the wake and then the funeral the next day, Shay's former Notre Dame teammates vowed to see each other more often, to not wait for tragedy to reconnect. Soon the talk turned to the most perfect of tributes: to finish a race in the city where Shay ran his last.

A year ago, Shay collapsed 5½ miles into the U.S. men's marathon Olympic trials, which were held in conjunction with the New York City Marathon. The 28-year-old was found to have an irregular heartbeat because of an enlarged heart.

This Sunday at the 2008 NYC Marathon, two groups comprising about 35 people will run the 26.2 miles in honor of Shay.

"This has been a labor of love for so many people for so long," said Shay's brother-in-law, Doug Tumminello, who is one of about 15 friends and relatives of Shay's widow, Alicia, entered in the race. "You don't just show up one day and decide to run a marathon. You're planning for months and months and months for most of us.

"It will be special to be out there doing that, knowing it takes hard work and takes dedication. We can never hope to run the race Ryan would've run last year. We can only hope to go out there and finish the race for him in our own way."

The other day, Joe Shay got a phone call from a local nursery, reminding him that they had a tree waiting for him. He had forgotten about that gift from his son's college buddies. The ground was too hard at the time of the funeral last year, but now would be the perfect time to plant it near his grave.

It is one of the countless tributes that have poured in. The races named after him. The strangers sharing what Joe likes to call the "Ryan stories."

Joe and his wife, Susan, considered attending this weekend's marathon but decided it would be too difficult. Most of Ryan's seven siblings plan to be there; his brother Casey is set to run with the Notre Dame teammates.

"It's heartwarming to know that so many people would put that kind of time and effort into it to remember what he contributed to the sport of running," Joe Shay said.

Some of the people running for Shay are experienced marathoners; others have had to train extensively for months to be able to complete the course. Even among the 20 or so former Notre Dame teammates, some haven't run seriously in years.

"I think that it's kind of something that we all took away from knowing Ryan: It's going to be hard. It's going to be a challenge," said Sean McManus, one of the Irish alums entered in the marathon. "Everyone at some time in the race will reflect on their experiences with Ryan, the strength and determination he showed not only in running but the way he lived his life. It will give us that little extra spark we need."

McManus became the cross country coach at Fresno State this year. When he took the job, he had one stipulation: He would have to miss the conference meet this weekend to run in New York.

He and his former teammates will stick together for the first mile then run the rest of the race at their own pace. Notre Dame coach Joe Piane gave them all Irish jerseys to wear. Saucony, Shay's sponsor, donated shoes.

The company is also dedicating a bench in Central Park on Saturday near where Ryan collapsed and provided equipment to the group of Alicia Shay's friends and relatives.

Many of those people will be meeting each other for the first time in New York, brought together from around the country to show their support. The group includes Dena Evans, who was Alicia's coach when she was a star runner at Stanford. Alicia will be there cheering them on, said Tumminello, who is married to her sister Lisa Renee.

Another runner will be hoping to honor Shay with a victory. Abdi Abdirahman, who warmed up with Shay the morning of the trials, was his training partner in Arizona.

Abdirahman didn't even want to run anymore in the days after his friend's death.

"I just think about what Ryan wanted me to do," Abdirahman said. "He didn't want me to stop. No, he wanted me to run. He wanted me to win races."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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