Jared Ward began to doubt his ability to finish his Olympic Trials marathon run as the unforgiving Los Angeles heat bore down on him towards the end of the race.
“I was hot, struggling, and tired, wondering how I was going to make it to the finish line,” Ward said. “I started having these faces flash through my head of people who had sacrificed so much to give me the opportunity to be there.”
With the support of family, friends, and coaches in mind, the BYU adjunct statistics professor from Kaysville, Utah pushed forward to place third in the U.S. Olympic Men’s Marathon Trials—qualifying him for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
A 2015 statistics department alumnus, Ward finds that his teaching position at BYU has allowed him to pursue both his passion for statistics as well as his love of running.
“It complements the training cycle of running really quite well,” Ward said.
And on August 5—alongside Olympic icons such as Carmelo Anthony, Simone Biles, and Michael Phelps—Ward stepped into the Olympic opening ceremony dressed in red, white, and blue.
“It was so cool to be around so many athletes that I’ve only watched on TV, looked up to, and idolized over the years,” Ward said. “It certainly was like a dream come true just being there.”
Ward did more than just “be there”; he finished sixth in the men’s marathon, establishing himself as one of the fastest distance runners in the world.
“I really think that I left everything out there on the course,” Ward said. “I was pleased to have finished so close up there to the podium.”
Although reaching that point in his career required years of training and preparation on his part, Ward’s greatest takeaway from the Olympics was an immense appreciation for those around him.
“It was interesting to realize that most of us in life . . . have a lot of people that sacrifice a lot for us,” Ward said. “It would be selfish . . . to not give all of our endeavors our best effort, because so many people sacrificed to give us those opportunities.”
Ward took that lesson to heart as he stepped onto the track in Rio.
“You pull on the USA jersey, and now all of the sudden you’re representing your friends, your family, your name, your community, your school, and your state,” Ward said. “But you’re also representing the 300 million people in America.”
Now that the Olympics have been put on hold for another four years, Ward proudly represents his community through other avenues.
“My focus through the summer in preparing for the Olympics had been on running,” Ward said. “It’s kind of fun for me to shift gears back to spending even a little bit more time with my kids, more time focused on the research that we’re doing, and [more] time with the students in the Statistics Department.”
Ward has been working with Dr. Gilbert Fellingham on a performance curve project to predict the future times of high school and college track athletes.
“Ultimately, we hope to be able to say, ‘Okay, if [a sophomore] has run a five-minute mile and they run a four-minute fifteen-second mile as a senior in high school, what’s the probability that this person pans out in college and is an All-American runner?’” Ward said.
While Ward has now turned his attention back to his work as an adjunct professor, he won’t forget the progress he’s made as a runner and the possibilities that still lie ahead.
“I went out to Rio de Janeiro excited to be there and after that race I felt like I belonged there,” Ward said. “Maybe next time I can bring home a medal.”