Hall Fueled By Faith For More Olympic Success
In the dictionary, in addition to "Olympian" meaning "a participant in the Olympic Games," it's also defined as "a being of lofty detachment or superior attainments."
When reading these definitions and relating them to the modern-day Olympic athlete, it'd be easy to assume an Olympian's athletic career, while challenging and filled with years of extreme physical work, always had them at the top and void of much personal frustration.
For one-time Olympian and former Stanford cross country and track and field standout Ryan Hall, his road to prominence, while highly successful, was not without some level of frustration. In fact, Stanford should feel somewhat lucky Hall chose them as his institution of choice.
"Stanford is actually the one school that I had totally ruled out," admits Hall, who finished 10th in the 2008 Men's Olympic Marathon in the Beijing Summer Olympics. "I was like, 'There's no way I'm going to Stanford.' For one, I thought the academics would be way over my head. I mainly didn't want to go there because all the good runners were going there and it was the trendy place to go. I didn't want to follow the trend."
Hall, a man of faith, had a sudden change of heart and found himself on a recruiting trip to the Palo Alto, Calif., campus.
"God just kind of shifted my heart on that and before I knew it, I was taking a recruiting trip to Stanford," says Hall, a native of Big Bear Lake, Calif. "I remember sitting by the church in the quad at Stanford, one of my favorite places on campus, and praying about it and feeling like God was leading me to Stanford."
Shortly after, Hall, the California state cross country champion his junior and senior years at Big Bear High School, chose to attend Stanford. And while the Cardinal knew they landed a good one, they had no idea they landed possibly the top men's long distance runner in American history.
However, before the majority of Hall's success came to fruition, he experienced a bump in the road in his sophomore year. Personal frustrations both athletically and academically had Hall rethinking his decision to come to Stanford, so much so that he went home for a full quarter.
"I'm a big dreamer, and thought I'd come to Stanford and run really quick and do really well, and things weren't going that way," explains Hall. "I was beginning to question whether or not I should be at Stanford. I went home and had to deal with that."
It was back home where Hall eventually met with his family and his church pastor, and where his faith brought him to make the decision to not give up and go back to school. This was a decision that benefited himself and the university to no end.
"My pastor in my hometown said, 'What was the last thing that you're sure God was telling you to do?'" says Hall. "I said, 'I'm sure it was that I was supposed to go to Stanford.'"
From that point on Hall committed himself to being successful in the areas in life which brought him back home months before in frustration. Suddenly, his career took off in the right direction.
"I came back with a total commitment to finish school and be committed to doing the best I could at Stanford," says Hall. "That was a huge stepping point in my career."
During his four-year career as a Cardinal, Hall was a three-time All-American, the 2004 NCAA West Regional Athlete of the Year, and led his team to the 2003 cross country national championship. These accomplishments, while superb, are only a few of a laundry list of awards and accolades Hall received while wearing Cardinal red.
Not surprisingly, however, is his favorite moment as a Cardinal was not winning any one of his many individual awards, but a team victory.
"In 2003 when our team won the national cross country championship, that was by far the athletic highlight of my career (at Stanford)," says Hall. "I finished second as a runner up that year, but our team had such a dominating performance. My favorite memory of all my time at Stanford is finishing, and fortunate enough to be our first guy that day (to finish), looking back at the finish line and watching all my teammates come across the line. It's the second lowest points score in the history of cross country, which is pretty amazing to be a part of that."
Upon graduating from Stanford in 2005, Hall wasn't sure what turn his life was going to take. He wanted to focus on going to the next level in his sport, but wasn't sure if he was going to have to enter the working world and get a job. These were big concerns of his, as he was looking to get engaged and eventually marry his girlfriend, Sara Bei, also a former Stanford standout runner. This is where his life took an interesting turn, and gave Hall an exciting sign of things to come. Hall signed his first his first endorsement contract, with Asics.
"Going into my fourth year I wasn't sure what my future would hold, I thought I was going to have to work and try to run on the side," says Hall. "It's funny because right before I signed the contract with Asics, I was about to propose to Sara. I was talking to her parents and asking them for permission to propose to her. The only thing they may have a problem with was whether I could take care of their daughter financially."
Hall decided to leave no cards on the table.
"I just told them straight up, 'I don't know how I'm going to be able to provide for your daughter. I'll do whatever it takes but I don't know how exactly how it's going to look,'" remembers Hall. "Then a week later I signed my contract with Asics, and had enough to provide for her and to provide for us to get married. It was pretty sweet."
The sweetness didn't stop there as Hall continued to excel at the next level, placing first in the 2007 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon in New York City before competing and finishing 10th in the 2008 marathon at the Beijing Olympic Games. Since the Olympic Games, Hall has many top-five finishes in marathons such as the Boston Marathon, Philadelphia and New York City half-marathons, and a second place finish at the 2011 USA Half Marathon Championship.
With the 2012 Olympic Games in London fast approaching, Hall has his eyes set for another Olympic appearance. He's not content having been on that grand stage just one time.
"Having done it once, it doesn't necessarily make you feel satisfied, it makes you know what that experience is like and how special it is," says Hall, who looks to begin training for the January Olympic trials towards the end of October. "It makes you want to get there even more the next time around."
Hall uses his faith as fuel to drive the best out of his athletic body while he can, and he knows he stills has plenty of high octane gas left in the tank.
"I want to see what's possible for me," says the 29-year-old Hall. "I want to see what God has put in me come out, and I want to see what that is. I've had a lot of really good races that I'm very grateful for, but I feel like the best stuff is still inside me."