Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sarah Shay's marathon more than a race


Until recently, the proudest moment Sarah Shay experienced as a runner occurred 17 years ago during her senior year at Central Lake High near Traverse City.

She had just won a 1993 regional cross-country meet when she was greeted by a freshman boy from her high school who had captured his race.

"He walked up to me and patted me on the back, like I was the younger one," Shay said with a laugh.

The runner was her brother, Ryan Shay.

On Sunday, Sarah Shay will run in her first New York City Marathon, three years after Ryan died in Central Park during the U.S. Olympic men's marathon trials. The race was held the day before the 2007 NYC Marathon. Ryan Shay, who was 28, died of heart attack due to a pre-existing enlarged heart condition.

He was among the state's greatest prep distance runners, capturing four consecutive Class D state cross-country titles. He was also a three-time state champion in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs on the track, and won the state title in the 800 during his sophomore year.

He went on to Notre Dame, where he became a nine-time All-America. As a pro, he won several big races, including the 2003 USA marathon championships.

In the summer of 2007, Shay married former Stanford star runner Alicia Craig, who'll be in New York on Sunday cheering on Sarah.

Sarah Shay, 34, is running in just her second 26.2-mile race of her career. She's doing it to honor the memory of her brother while raising awareness for injured vets.

Last February, at the Austin (Texas) Marathon, Sarah raised $13,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps injured soldiers transition back to civilian life. Shay, who lives in Austin, has a goal of raising $26,200 in donations for the New York City Marathon.

"After that marathon (in Austin), I said, 'I'll never run a marathon again,'" Shay said. "And then I went through a 'What now?' feeling, and then New York popped in my head."

The last time Shay was in New York was in 2008, when her brother, Casey Shay, ran the marathon.

"After Ryan passed, I went through a few times to put flowers by his rock," Sarah Shay said of the spot in Central Park where Ryan collapsed. "When I run past it on Sunday, I don't think I'll be able to contain myself."

Shay said she found comfort in remembering the passionate side of her brother and his honesty.

"He could curse like the wind whenever he was frustrated," she said with a laugh, "but he gave you rock solid loyalty and the truth."

Unlike some of her siblings who are accomplished runners -- the youngest Shay, Stephan, 24, was fifth at the U.S. half-marathon championships earlier this year -- Sarah hadn't run much since high school until this past year. A divorced mother, she squeezes in training runs between taking care of her son, Max, 5, and working full-time in property management. She also was diagnosed with lupus last year.

Her workouts are supervised by Gary Brimmer, a former Michigander who lives in San Antonio.

"It's harder than I thought," Shay said of the marathon. "But it's in my heart, and it's what I want to do.