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Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Runners still feel impact of Ryan’s coaching

Proof of Howie Ryan’s excellence as a cross country head coach can be found in the achievements of some of the runners he mentored.

Ryan, who died at 63 onJune 3 in Spring, helped Anthony Smith win the Southwest Conference’s individual championship in 1985. He also coached 2000 NCAA cross country qualifier Mike Olague, who finished second at that year’s Conference USA meet. As an assistant track coach, Ryan helped Karim Alston become an eight-time 800-meter champion.

Ryan’s value could also be measured in less publicized achievements, such as convincing runners to stick with the sport despite their obstacles.

Lance Phegley was one such runner. Phegley, who ran at UH from 1986 to 1990, was "burned out" from running in high school and wasn’t too keen on the idea of doing so in college. Ryan, however, never stopped recruiting him.

"He just kept calling me," said Phegley, editor of the magazines Inside Texas Running and Runner Triathlete News. "I had decided that I was going to come to UH, whether I ran or not, and it got to be late July or early August when he calls me and says, ‘Look, I really want you to come out for the team.’ I told him, ‘Howie, I haven’t run in three or four months. I’m not in any kind of shape to run.’ He was like, ‘Don’t worry about it. Get yourself in shape a little bit, come on down and we’ll redshirt you. It’ll be fine.’

"That impressed me. Here’s a guy that’s just been told by someone who can’t run that ‘I’m in terrible shape,’ and he’s like, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of it.’ He had that much confidence in me.

Phegley said Ryan’s best coaching usually came five minutes before the start of races. At that time, Phegley said Ryan would map out the entire race to his runners.

"You could have had your leg amputated earlier that morning, but by the time he was through with you and sent you to that starting line, you were convinced that you were going to run the fastest race you ever ran," Phegley said.

Ryan eventually gave up running a few years ago because of an ankle injury, but never had any serious health issues until he began experiencing flu-like symptoms a few days before dying of an aortic aneurysm.

Ryan’s funeral was June 9. He is survived by his wife Sandy Ryan, to whom he was married for 31 years, and his three children, Laura Ryan Schaberg, Scott and Katy Ryan, and granddaughter Abigail Schaberg. His other survivors include the several runners and friends whose lives he touched in one way or another.

"He was truly remarkable," said Alex Galbraith, president of the Terlingua Track Club.

This is the conclusion of a two-part series on former UH track and field runner and coach Howie Ryan.

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