One of the all-time top athletes in the United States, mile-record-setter Jim Ryun, has settled into making EMU the site of one of his three annual running camps.
Ryun tried EMU for the first time in the summer of 2013, moving his training camp from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. He returned in 2014 and says he’ll be back with his campers in 2015 and, he hopes, for many years to come.
“Today is the day, 48 years ago, that I set the world record for the mile in Berkeley, California,” Ryun told an EMU reporter on July 17. He sounded thoughtful rather than boastful, as he sat on the grass under a tree by the EMU track patiently answering questions that he has probably answered a million times.
It also happened to be the 48th anniversary of the day that somebody named Anne Snider approached Ryun after he had been signing autographs for a long time and asked for one for herself. He politely declined her request but held out the promise to comply in the future, maybe even after he returned to his University of Kansas. He did learn that she happened to be visiting California and was enrolled at arch-rival Kansas State.
Decades of being “we”
Somehow it all worked out. Three years later – a year before Jim graduated from university – Anne and Jim were married and on their way to a lifelong partnership. He uses “we” more often than not in conversation – referring to the two of them becoming born-again Christians in 1972, raising four children (and adoring their 12 grandchildren), entering the political arena when Jim represented Kansas’ 2nd district in Congress, and holding camps for runners (largely high school-aged) since 1973.
“You’ve got to meet Anne – she’ll be along soon,” Jim said as the reporter was putting away her notepad. And Anne came along just then, walking jauntily north toward the outdoor track from their rooms in Cedarwood residence hall, accompanied by one of their sons and his wife, who help direct the camps with mom and dad Ryun.
Anne turned out to be all of 5’3” alongside her 6’3” husband, but the outsized warmth of her personality lent support to her husband’s contention that she was indispensable to his successful runs for Congress, where he was a fervent “small government” Republican in the House of Representatives, 1996-2007.
In 2006, the National Journal named Jim the most conservative member of Congress, an honor that ranks with Jim’s running awards, to judge by his manner of speaking. “I believe in small government, lower taxes, a debt-free nation, a strong military, a strong family, and less Social Security and Medicare,” he emphasizes. He is the chair of the Madison Project, which seeks to enlarge the number of uncompromising conservatives in Congress.
From July 13 to 18, 2014, however, Jim and Anne weren’t focused on politics – they were utterly devoted to the 58 runners under their care in the Jim Ryun Running Camp at EMU, including five from Eastern Mennonite High School, along with their coach, EMU junior Tyler Eshleman.
Eshleman was the Ryuns’ trouble-shooter and general go-to person on behalf of EMU during the camp. “He’s been great,” said Jim. “If I could take him everywhere with us, I’d love it.”
The love was mutual. “My athletes who attended are already spreading the word of the education, encouragement, and spiritual growth they experienced at the camp,” said Eshleman. “They are setting better goals, and showing new enthusiasm for their sport. I can only hope more of my team will take advantage of this marvelous opportunity next summer.”
Jason Lewkowicz, EMU’s cross country and track & field coach, was juggling competing demands on his time during camp week, yet most days he made a point of joining the Ryuns for their worship and learning sessions. “I am grateful for how Jim and Anne integrate faith into their running camp. . .[as well as] their emphasis on using the gift of running to honor God, the giver of that gift!”
In addition to the EMU camp in the Shenandoah Valley, the Ryuns hold one each summer near the beach in San Diego, California, and a third in the mountains of Greeley, Colorado. In 2014, camp fees were $650 for an individual, with discounts for coaches and runners who come as a member of a team. Campers must be at least age 13 to come, but the camp website – ryunrunning.com – says there is no upper age limit.
The website also makes it clear that the camp has a Christian atmosphere. “We believe well-rounded runners are those who are nurtured physically, mentally and spiritually,” says Jim, which is why devotional sessions based on biblical passages are an integral part of the camp.
Another accomplished Olympian, pentathlon athlete Jack Daniels, is always part of the training team at the Ryun camp.
Best H.S. athlete ever
Jim Ryun was one of the most famous and admired athletes of his day – named in 1966 (at age 19) as Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year” and as ABC’s Wide World of Sports’ Athlete of the Year, among many other kudos.
He still holds five of the six fastest mile times in U.S. high school history, all under 4 minutes, and “most of them on much slower track surfaces than today’s,” notes ESPN.com. He won the silver medal for the 1500 m at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Today, over 40 years after he set them, Ryun still holds the American junior (19 and under) records at 880 yd (1:44.9), 800 m (1:44.3), 1,500 m (3:36.1), and two miles (8:25.1).
Memories of Ryun’s running career, which ended in the mid-1970s, remain strong. In 2007, ESPN.com named him the “best high school athlete ever,” above such well-known figures as Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The Jim Ryun Running Camp grew by about 40% between its first and second years at EMU. Ryun says they turn away applicants at the 100 camper mark at each of their three sites, a goal likely to be reached at EMU in the next two years at the rate things are going.
“There is no doubt that the Ryun Running Camp offers a great experience for the campers,” said Lewkowicz, who plans to commit more time to the camp in 2015. “To be able to spend a week with Jim Ryun, Jack Daniels, and the rest of the staff is worth the cost of registration alone. However, they work hard to ensure a great holistic experience for the camp attendees, integrating faith, team building, and fellowship, to the daily running and learning regimen. Any young runner would come out of the Jim Ryun Running Camp experience with a positive outlook on life and running.”