Jim Ryun Story covers the first four years of his running career from 1962, when he was a mere 15-year-old high school sophomore, through 1966. With excitement and father-like warmth, the author Cordner Nelson tells a Cinderella story about this Kansas ‘ugly duckling’ turning into a ‘physiological phenomenon’, winning race after race and breaking world records in half mile, mile, and two miles. He also represented his country in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when he was only 17 years old. I knew Ryun’s name and that he once had a mile world record, but I had no idea he was so young and he had other world records other than a mile. Very impressive.
I know it’s absurd, but as I tuned pages, I could not help but compare Ryun with, um, me. It’s totally outrageous and vulgar: Such comparison does not make any sense whatsoever. But I was once in high school and ran track, too, though the similarity pretty much ends there, sadly. OK, maybe I was just putting myself in his shoes or wishing I was half as good as him or even regretting I did not push harder to get better results. My high school coach thought I was more suited for 800m, but I could not bear a thought of running, let alone sprinting, a track twice, without any break. So I insisted on 400m, which produced no glory. My PR of 53.1 was not even good enough to run in the final of regional meet. But the troubling thing is I was OK with that. I was nonchalant about the results. After all, track was not my first choice: I wanted to play volleyball but my high school did not have a team. I was basically forced to belong to a sports team and I picked track, because I did have some success in sprints and jumps in junior high school. But the level of competition was much higher in high school, and I was not into track that much. Because of this pathetic attitude toward track and lack of competitive drive and discipline in my high school years, Ryun’s hard work and accomplishments seem even more impressive and admirable. Ryun was quoted “If a person is willing to work hard enough, it is possible to achieve a high goal”. I have nothing to say to that!
Enough about me and back to the book. As I turned pages, I could not stop cheering for him, and having finished this book, I was invigorated and refreshed. This is mostly because Nelson focused on Ryun’s success and described Ryun as shy but pure and hard working individual who was raised with good old Midwestern values. He did not win all the races he ran on the track, but it seems he used his failure or mistakes to run better next time. His improvement and progress was just spectacular. Off the track, everybody, whether s/he was his fellow student, teacher, journalist or even rival, liked him. There is no dirt on him in this book!
I do not know how he developed after 1966. I can easily look that up online, but I did not want to alter my opinion I formed from reading this book. I would love to find another book that followed him after 1966.
I would recommend this book to those who are track enthusiasts. But even if you are not, I think you will have similar takeaways and enjoy the story tremendously.