Most experienced runners will tell you that one of the best ways to garner cheers of support during a race is by donning the attire of your alma mater.
It’s a theory that turns out to be true even if you are a Kansas University alumnus running your first marathon as far away as Ireland.
Just ask Tommy Ryan.
Ryan, a native of Harold’s Cross in Dublin who has lived most of his life in Lawrence, graduated from KU in 2003 and worked at the university until 2010.
A cross-country runner in high school, Ryan picked running as a way to get back into shape. He decided to aim for the Dublin Marathon, which was a great excuse to visit a country he loved.
On Oct. 31, Ryan set out on the 26.2-mile course wearing a blue KU T-shirt.
Along the way, Ryan heard shouts of “Go, Kansas!” But it was on the very last leg of the race when Ryan knew he heard a true Jayhawk fan in the crowd. He was on mile 24 or 25 and had just run up a long incline that wrecked his leg.
“I was concentrating on staying alive, really,” Ryan wrote during a Facebook chat with the Lawrence Journal-World last week.
And then he heard a familiar sound: a “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” cheer.
“I had a big grin on my face. I shouted something lame back like ‘Woo hoo!’ It was a great boost indeed!” Ryan wrote.
And the stranger’s cheering paid off.
Ryan finished the race in less than four hours (3 hours, 50 minutes and 38 seconds to be exact), something he didn’t think he could do.
Before the age of social media, chances are the story would end there.
But the woman who shouted to Ryan was Kathy Kipp, a 1997 alumna who lives in Dublin. She reported her encounter to the KU Alumni Association. The Alumni Association posted Kipp’s inquiry on Facebook.
“Kathy, an alumna living in Ireland, saw a fellow Jayhawk running in the Dublin Marathon today. She wasn’t able to snap a photo, but she reports that he was delighted and surprised to hear her shout ‘Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!’” the alumni association’s post said.
A friend of Ryan’s spotted the post and thought she might know whom the mysterious runner was. She alerted Ryan.
“The second I read it, I about flew out of my seat,” Ryan wrote.
Ryan quickly replied that indeed it was him, and the cheering gave him the boost he needed at a crucial moment.
Kipp and Ryan haven’t been able to meet in person, but are now Facebook friends. Ryan said he intends to return the favor someday.
“I definitely owe her a pint for the inspiration,” he said.