RUN, RYUN RUN!!!
by Stan Griffin, Deaf Friends International Special Contributor
Congressman James Ryun (R-Kansas) was returned to office in the November, 2002 elections for what will be his fourth term in the U. S. House of Representatives. He was well known in the world of track and field during the 1960s and 1970s. Jim Ryun "set the standards by which generations of runners still measure themselves today."
Ryun was the first high school runner in the U. S. to break the four-minute mile barrier. His time of 3:55.3 (set in 1965) was unbroken for 36 years. Ryun also set world records in the mile, the 880-yards, and the 1500- meters as a Kansas University runner (1966-1967). In 1966 Ryun was named winner of the Sullivan Trophy awarded by the Amateur Athletic Union to the outstanding U. S. amateur athlete. He participated in three Olympic Games (1964, 1968, 1972), winning a silver medal in the 1500- meter run (1968).
Jim Ryun was born on May 29, 1947 and grew up in Wichita, Kansas, the son of a Boeing toolmaker. During his childhood, he came down with a serious case of measles. Ryun nearly died, and the condition left him with a partial hearing loss.
As a schoolboy Ryun delivered newspapers, getting up at 4:30 a.m. and covering a 12-block route. Afterwards, no matter what the weather, he ran six miles through the city and even out on the nearby Kansas prairie. At the end of the day, he ran six more miles on the school track.
His high school track coach, Bob Timmons, didn’t want him on the team at first. But once he had a chance to see Ryun’s work ethic (running 120 miles a week), he changed his mind. When Ryun got to Kansas University, he found Timmons had taken the job as track coach there. Under his guidance Ryun set several world records. His old coach describes Ryun as " ... a tryer–in everything he does ..."
Looking back, Ryun frankly labels his teenage self as a "nerd." He didn’t smoke or drink, and he attended church twice a week. Throughout his life, Ryun has always given God credit for his success; but he never flaunted his religion or blamed Him when events didn’t go as planned.
In 1964, still in high school, Ryun made the U.S. Olympic team and reached the semifinals of the 1500 meters.
Four years later, Ryun was "on top" of the track world. He came to his second Olympic Games, this time in Mexico City, as the holder of three world records. He hadn’t been beaten in the 1500 meters for three years.
Unfortunately in June, Ryun came down with mononucleosis. He worked hard to regain top physical condition, knowing that Mexico City’s high altitude would be a challenge for him. These circumstances raised the potential chances of an African Nandi tribesman, 28-year-old Kip Keino (KANE-oh). He had never beaten Ryun, but he lived and trained in the higher elevations of his homeland.
Keino’s strategy in the 1500 meters was to start fast and build up an early lead so huge that Ryun’s famous "kick" (fast finish) wouldn’t be enough to win. Spectators thought the fast pace was "suicidal," that he couldn’t possibly keep it up. But Keino surprised everybody. Ryun never got closer than 12 yards, and he had to ease up in pain at the end; he came in three seconds behind Keino and had to settle for a silver medal.
After his loss at Mexico City, Ryun temporarily retired from competitive running. It was a short retirement, and he qualified for the U. S. Olympic team again in 1972. He was in top form as the competition in Munich began.
Track fans anticipated another duel between Ryun and Keino. Through a glitch in the pairings, however, they were thrown into the same first-round "heat" (preliminary race) for the 1500 meters instead of being kept apart until the finals.
About 550 meters from the finish line, Ryun found himself caught in a "box." Instead of going to the outside, he tried to squeeze his way between runners. He collided with one and fell to the track, landing under another. He lay there, stunned, for eight seconds; it turned out he had a bruised hip, a scraped knee, a sprained ankle, and a contusion of the Adams apple. Ryun finally got up and began chasing the others.
The German crowd cheered him on, but he had lost too much time and could not catch up with the field. Keino finished first in the heat. Ryun was in shock. He said " ... everything was going well and I felt good and the next thing .. I was trying to figure out what happened ..." Keino went on to the finals where he came away with a silver medal.
The fall at Munich ended Ryun’s dreams of Olympic gold. He made no excuses and blamed no one but himself. This race would prove to be the end of Jim Ryun’s amateur career. To fill the gap in his life, he found "fulfillment in his family" and in public service.
For the next 14 years Ryun found various activities to occupy himself. He became an effective motivational speaker, addressing corporations and Christian groups. He founded the Jim Ryun Running Camps in 1976. He was founder and president of Jim Ryun Sports, Inc., a public relations company. His role in this firm was that of a product development consultant, marketing products and promoting awareness of various charities.
Ryun and his family live on a farm in rural Jefferson County, Kansas. Since 1983 he has listed his occupation as "rancher." He and his wife Anne have four children (two boys, two girls) and two grandchildren.
To assist other youngsters who find themselves with a hearing defect as he did, Ryun worked with the ReSound Hearing Aid Company, creating his own program, "Sounds of Success," aimed at helping hearing impaired children "achieve their potential." He also wrote two books
In May, 1996 the congressman from Ryun’s Second District, Sam Brownback, decided to run for the U. S. Senate. Ryun was persuaded to be a candidate for his vacated seat. With definite opinions on most issues, Ryun came out especially against divorce, abortion, and euthanasia (mercy killing). His platform included tax cuts and opposition to abortion rights.
His opponent labeled Ryun "an extremist" and "an oddity." Democrats circulated an article, "Courtship Makes A Comeback," written by Ryun and his wife. It endorsed the idea of "involving the church and family in children’s decision to marry, even putting forth the idea that his daughters’ suitors must get his permission to date them."
In an extremely close election, Ryun came out on top 52% - 47%. In Washington, Ryun had a conservative voting record. His constituents apparently liked his ideas because he was reelected in 1998 and 2000 by much larger margins. Ryun has been diligent in working toward economic relief for Second District families as well as striving to "ease their tax burden and eliminate unnecessary governmental regulations."
In the House, Ryun serves on the Armed Services Committee and is Vice Chairman of its Personnel Subcommittee. He is co-chairman of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus.
In April, 2002 the House passed Ryun’s resolution to recognize the month of May as "National Better Hearing and Speech Month." For 75 years the hearing impaired community has recognized that month as "Hearing and Speech Awareness Month." The resolution "added an official voice to this effort." Ryun hopes that " ... more people will (become) conscious of the reality of hearing loss and what can be done to prevent and treat (it) ..."
Ryun’s childhood hearing loss wasn’t diagnosed for several years, and he was in his 40s before being fitted with a hearing aid. While his children were growing up, he often had to depend on his wife to repeat was being said all around him. "I know what it is like not to be able to hear your child’s first words. I’m thankful ... my problem has been resolved. I hope that through education and awareness millions ... will have sound brought back into their world."
In September of 2002, Ryun introduced legislation for hearing aid purchases. If enacted into law, it would allow tax credit up to $500 toward purchase of a "qualified hearing aid."
Ryun believes there are parallels between athletics and politics, saying "Athletics teaches you discipline and hard work. Politics takes those qualities ... and more."
His legacy is " ... old-fashioned individual achievement in pursuit of excellence, something purely and distinctly American." Today he remains a role model " ... (for) men and women who have what it takes to go the distance for their dreams ..."