UH remembers cross country coach, mentor Ryan
Howie Ryan never met a race he couldn’t master or a runner whom he was above helping.
No matter where Ryan went or whomever he met, his legacy followed him. Given the number of lives and careers he affected, it will endure long after his untimely death.
Ryan, a standout letter-winner with the Cougars from 1965-67 and the University’s cross country head coach from 1976-2002, died at 63 of an aortic aneurysm June 3 in a Spring emergency room. His death leaves family, colleagues and former runners to reflect on the life of a man who collected several achievements while helping to launch the careers of many aspiring runners.
Those who knew him recall an accomplished career that included Ryan competing in the U.S. Olympics trials in 1972 in the steeplechase and qualifying for the 1976 trials.
But they also said Ryan, a Spring resident and Yonkers, N.Y. native, spent almost as much time sharing his talent as he did displaying it on the track.
"He was not so self-absorbed that he couldn’t associate with you," said Alex Galbraith, president of the Terlingua Track Club, the oldest track club in Houston.
"He was the kind of person who was so focused on trying to help people become better runners. I’ve never known anyone that he turned down when they needed help about running."
Ryan continued to tutor runners even after he retired from coaching in 2002. He also organized and supervised fun runs and managed his sportswear company.
"Howie was one of those unique individuals who wore many hats," said Galbraith, who ran on UH’s cross country team in the early 1970s.
A New Yorker becomes a Texan
Ryan was born to Howard and Agnes Ryan on Dec. 13, 1944. He was a basketball and track and field standout at Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Yonkers. He enrolled at UH on a track scholarship in 1964.
Hardly a day passed when Ryan wasn’t seen running.
"He worked out all the time," said Warren McVea, a former UH football standout who ran with Ryan on the 1966 track team. "I don’t remember for sure, but I’d say Howie worked out seven days a week. He was always running."
After leaving UH in 1967, Ryan returned to New York, where he launched his cross country and track coaching career in 1970 – first with Hamilton High School in Elmsford and then Kennedy High School in Somers. After a brief stay at these schools, Ryan embarked on a more ambitious career path.
He secured a trip to the 1972 U.S. Olympic trials in the steeplechase but fell short of reaching the Munich Olympics. He qualified for the Olympic trials in 1976, but couldn’t compete after falling ill, his daughter, Laura Ryan Schaberg, told the Houston Chronicle.
Having fallen short in his attempts at the Olympics, Ryan moved back to Houston later that year and became UH’s cross country head coach and an assistant track coach in charge of long-distance runners. Standout runners emerged under his tutelage for the next 26 years.
This is the first of a two-part series on former UH track and field runner and coach Howie Ryan, who died June 3.