Ryan Shay attended Central Lake High School in Central Lake, Michigan from 1993 to 1997 He was a four time Class D state champion in cross country. He was a three-time consecutive Class D state champion in the 1600-meter and 3200-meter runs from his sophomore through senior track seasons (1995 through 1997), and also won the Class-D state title in the 800-meter run as a sophomore.
Shay continued running as a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 1997, majoring in economics and competing in both cross country and track. He was a 9-time All-American while competing at Notre Dame. Shay was the first Notre Dame runner to win an NCAA individual title, winning the 10,000-meter run at the 2001 NCAA outdoor meet in a time of 29:05.44. Shay graduated as the school record holder in both the indoor and outdoor 5,000-meter runs, as well as the 10,000-meter run. He graduated in the top of his class.
Following college, Shay ran professionally, winning races at various distances, including the marathon, half-marathon, 20 km and 15 km. He was also the 2003 USATF half-marathon, and marathon champion. Shay finished in 23rd place in the 2004 Men's Olympic Marathon Trials.
On November 3rd, during the US Olympic marathon trials in New York City, Shay collapsed approximately 5 1/2 miles into the race and was pronounced dead soon after. Public Affairs of the New York Chief Medical Examiner's Office released the following statement to Joe Shay, Ryan's father, regarding his final autopsy results: "Cardiac arrhythmia due to cardiac hypertrophy with patchy fibrosis of undetermined etiology. Natural causes."
Ryan was and is a role model for many young people in Northern Michigan and around the country.