Jan. 18, 2007
by Rebecca Rogers
The UW Daily
While most students last spring were kicking back in the sun, finishing their last finals and polishing summer break plans, one student-athlete was preparing for what was to be the biggest race of his life. Last spring, senior Ryan Brown ran past the leaders one by one in the finals of the men's 800-meter at the NCAA Track and Field championships to win a national title.
"The fact that I won was great; I still can't believe it," Brown said.
After only starting track and field his senior year of high school and then walking away from it again during his sophomore year of college, others probably joined Brown in his disbelief after he had won at the NCAA's.
Born in Baltimore, Md., Ryan moved to Washington in ninth grade because his mother wanted him to live in a place with a better school system. He moved to Renton to live with his older brother.
At Renton High School, Brown tried a lot of different sports before finally settling on running. His senior year he even took a break from the land and earned a varsity letter in swimming.
"I did the 100 backstroke. It was a lot of fun but I was horrible at it," Brown said. "I used to get pity claps. It was good to be really bad at something and then really good at something else though -- it put it in perspective."
Surprisingly, Brown's lack of talent in the pool was not what made him decide to quit swimming and take up track and field.
"Basically this girl that I liked did track, so that's why I joined," Brown. "She would always say if it wasn't for her I would have never been a track star."
Thanks to her, Brown graduated high school and started off his star-studded track career at the UW. After going undefeated in the 800-meter his senior year and winning a state championship in the event, Brown was only recruited by Washington State. However, still getting adjusted to Seattle and not wanting a big change again, this future national champion decided to walk onto the Husky team.
"I knew I had a spot because I had won high school state championships, but I still wanted to prove myself," Brown said.
But proving himself turned out to be more than Brown had bargained for. After an above-average freshman season, he quit the sport his sophomore year.
"It kicked my ass," Brown said. "It was a big jump from one year of high school track to Division I track. I was just always tired."
That was when fifth-year track coach Greg Metcalf really stepped in. After Brown set the UW freshman record in the 800-meter and was a vital leg on the 4x400 and distance medley relay, Metcalf knew this walk-on had a lot of potential.
"After his first race as a freshman I knew he was going to be good," Metcalf said. "It was too stressful for Ryan at first; it didn't match his personality. He just needed to take a step back and come back on his own terms."
Brown himself even began to realize the kind of talent he possessed and started having second thoughts about his decision.
"I had a pretty good freshman season and thought maybe I was wasting a lot of potential by quitting," he said.
Brown stepped onto the track again and rejoined his teammates for the 2004-05 season. It was then he really proved to himself and everyone else what he was wasting the previous year. He capped off his season with a Pac-10 and NCAA West Regional title in the 800 and earned two All-American honors in the process.
As his junior season of track and field rolled around, winning a national championship would only be the icing on the cake for Brown. But, after suffering from a minor injury and not having the kind of regular season he had hoped for, he was a little unsure of himself going into the NCAA meet held in Sacramento, Calif., in June.
"I just wanted to make a final," Brown said. "I didn't think I could win. I get super nervous before a race, but Metcalf gave me a lot of encouragement."
Metcalf helped calm his nerves by talking to him in the van ride to the meet.
"I reminded him of everything he's done so far to help build his confidence," Metcalf said. "He just has to focus on the things he can control. When it gets right down to race time, he is much better at handling his nerves."
At race time Brown was in sixth at the 400-meter mark with the leaders three meters ahead of him. With 150 meters to go, he made his move; stepping to the outside of lane one and passing the leaders at the 100-meter mark. From there he unleashed the famous "finishing kick" that propelled him to his Pac-10 and NCAA West Regional titles the previous year. He won the race by two meters, a lot concerning the length and speed of the event.
From the stands, his friend and training partner Austin Abbott saw the whole race play out.
"When there was 200 meters left in the race I knew he was going to win," Abbott said. "Watching the way Ryan ran the race, I'm not surprised he won."
Not quite done competing yet, Brown spent the early days of his summer traveling to Indianapolis, Ind., to compete in the USA Championships and then to the Dominican Republic to represent Team USA at the 2006 North America, Central America and Caribbean Athletic Association Championships.
"It was really cool there, with the beach and everything," Brown said. "It was not as island as I had thought it would be though; it was a real Third World country."
Now back from his travels and having just completed a training season with the cross country team in the fall, Brown said he is back for his final track and field season with the Huskies. Already having completed a biology degree and just taking a few classes now to remain eligible for track, Brown is ready to commit most of his time to the sport.
He admits that this season he feels a little more pressure, but plans to deal with it by trying some new events.
"I want to do the mile so I can be the underdog again," Brown said. "The expectation will be a little lower then."
Brown fans need not worry, as he will still be seen in his signature event this season. With Pac-10, NCAA West Regional and NCAA titles under his belt, he plans on finishing off the progression by making finals at the USA Championships.
"My goal is to run one minute, 45 seconds or better this year," Brown said. "I want to do well so people won't think my race last year was a fluke."
So far, this student who is hailed as one of the most decorated athletes in Husky history is just trying to enjoy his last year of college and being a collegiate athlete. When Brown is not out on the track practicing with his teammates -- such as Abbott, who Brown claims "is going to take over the track world" with him -- he can be found hanging out in his apartment like a normal student. A true competitor in all aspects, Brown even brings the same intensity to one of his favorite pastimes as he does on the track.
"He is really intense about video games," Abbott said. "If he is losing he will just turn it off."
Whenever Brown finds himself acting like a normal student, he has a reminder of what makes him a little different from most of us. It sits on top of his fireplace with the word "champion" engraved in gold.
Reach reporter Rebecca Rogers at email@example.com.