(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part story on former Davis High runner Jared Ward, and how the sport he loved led him to becoming a U.S. Olympian).
KAYSVILLE--With three miles to go in his 2016 Olympic Trial marathon event in Los Angeles last February, Kaysville’s Jared Ward was nervous – thinking that he wouldn’t be able to physically finish the 26.2-mile race.
It was then that a camera truck drove by and Ward looked into the camera. “In a split second, I saw the faces of my parents, my wife, my kids, my siblings, my coaches, my friends and so many mentors,” he said. “I realized then that this wasn’t my race to lose. I owed it to those people that had sacrificed so much for me and been compensated so little for their investment in me, which they had made for no other reason than to see me succeed. This was their race, too.”
Ward calls that experience of the finish line being the only option at that point “deeply motivating,” and credits that defining moment for helping him to a third-place finish at the Trials, securing the last spot for him on the U.S. Olympic Team that would compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Ward represented the U.S. – and the Davis County community – with a strong sixth-place finish in that Olympic marathon last summer, achieving the “stretch goal” he had set with his coach just the night before the race – elevating his “initial goal” to place in the top 10.
“I felt so blessed to have had the experience to be at the Olympics and I had a blast,” Ward said. “I had a good race and really ended the race feeling like I belonged there. It was a growing up experience for me.”
“He ran a great race where he put himself in the pack and moved his way through the top 20,” his coach Ed Eyestone said. “With three miles to go, he was moving a lot better than some of the other runners. We couldn’t see the end of the race so when we saw the final tweet with his placement, our group just erupted.”
Ward had been accompanied by his parents, Lynn and Natalie Ward, who were born and raised and still live in Kaysville, as well as Eyestone and his daughter Andrea, Ward’s uncle Richard Bowman and friend Tim Hope.
His wife, Erica, was 38 weeks pregnant with their third child, Julia, and tending their son, Paul (now five years old) and Ellie (now three), so she was unable to travel to the Olympics. “Thinking about Erica definitely made me run a little faster because there was no way I was missing our daughter being born, so I had to get home quickly,” Ward said.
Since then, Ward has been back to teaching statistics at BYU and continuing his training. On April 17, he ran the Boston Marathon – his sixth marathon – and placed tenth. This time, he was able to take his young family, including his now seven-month old daughter, to experience and enjoy a marathon event with them.
Ward’s finish in Boston rounded out the last of six Americans that finished in the top 10.
“We have a few really good marathoners who are creating a real movement that is showing that our country can produce marathoners,” Ward said. “We are now sending a different caliber of runners and are competing with the countries that usually dominate the marathons.”
Ward remembers enjoying running when he attended Kaysville Elementary School, and he continued staying active in it as well as playing competitive soccer during his Fairfield Junior High years. Still, it wasn’t until the end of his sophomore year at Davis High that he decided to devote his attention to the sport.
“I saw that I held a talent ceiling higher in running than soccer,” he said. “I also saw that in running, I could set my own goals and I could control the success. If I said that, ‘I want to do this,’ no one else could get in the way of my ability to achieve that goal. I was blessed to put in the work and stay committed and see myself progress.”
As a junior, Ward placed fourth at the 2005 5A state cross country meet and also placed in the mile and 2-mile events at the state track meet later that spring. During his senior cross country season, Ward went in as the favorite to the state race, but ended up losing by seven seconds in “a bit of a blow.” He bounced back that spring with three state titles – in the mile, 2-mile and medley relay to end his senior year, having been coached by Roger Buhrley and Corbin Talley in the Davis program.
An in-home visit by Eyestone, the BYU track coach and a two-time Olympian himself – who was wearing his 1988 Olympic ring on the visit – “wowed” Ward and led to an opportunity for him to compete collegiately in the Cougars’ program.
At BYU, he received top-notch coaching leading to further his success on the track. But, the Provo school ended up bringing him the ultimate gift – his wife Erica Christensen, who had also been a DHS Class of 2007 trackster, and participated as a hurdler herself for the Cougars for a year.
Ward “did exceptionally well as a freshman,” according to Eyestone, and he was named Freshman of the Year in the conference. He went on to capture six All-American awards during his four years at BYU.
But, Ward’s running career was far from over. That part of the story next week.