Hill Embarks on Next Stage of Illustrious Career
July 11, 2013
The finish line and starting line have never looked more familiar to NC State track and cross country star Ryan Hill than they do now. It’s not because he has run on a specific track or course more than a few times, but rather the fact that this particular metaphor relates to him closing one of the books on his career and opening the cover to the next one.
Hill completed his final collegiate track season in June, earning his 10th-career All-America honor in the process. During his five total seasons of track and cross country competition, Hill earned seven All-America citations as a track runner and three on the cross country circuit.
Establishing himself as one of the best distance runners in NC State history was no easy path for Hill, who labeled himself as a “middle-of-the-road” runner at the conclusion of his prep career.
“I’ve gotten a lot better compared to the rest of the nation since high school, which is something a lot of people can’t say,” Hill said. “That’s a huge testament to Coach [Rollie] Geiger, my teammates and the whole staff here. Those are all the people who made it possible for me to improve, catch guys and beat other runners who were better than me in high school.”
As in all cases, accomplishments are easier said than done, but Hill constantly set high standards for himself, and Geiger established a plan to help him reach his short and long-term goals.
“It’s constant hard work,” Hill stated. “You’re always changing your goals, too. It takes a lot of focus. The personal and team goals I had were not easy to come by, and there was a lot of perseverance and trust in my coach that came into play.”
But how might trust in a coach be such an important factor for a distance runner? Isn’t it entirely dependent upon the will and determination of the student-athlete to decide how well he can run? Of course, but the extra set of eyes and experience of a coach who has sent distance runners on to professional careers in the sport is of paramount importance to an athlete like Hill, who believe it or not, experienced some doubt in his abilities at times.
“I think there have been plenty of times where he believed in me more than I believed in myself,” Hill said of Geiger. “He always had more confidence in me. You need someone like that in your life who, when you think something is impossible, will tell you that it is possible.
“If he says there is something that is attainable for you then you truly feel like he has seen something in you for him to believe that. He has always been that kind of inspiration and a trusted advisor to me.”
As Hill faces all of the decisions that go along with a professional career, he says that his choices will not necessarily be contingent upon the dollar signs.
“Money is not everything, but you want to be paid enough to save money for later in life and live comfortably,” Hill said. “The other things like insurance, a travel budget and massage therapy are all important. The bigger those offers are, the better the deal is for me.”
Go ahead, laugh at that massage therapy request he has. You can bet it will come in handy once you hear of the first professional-career goal he has set out for himself.
“Hopefully I can make it a 10-year career and compete in the 2024 Summer Olympic Games when I’m 34 years old,” Hill said. “I would like to go that far because it’s something I enjoy. My peak will be before then, but I would like to compete until at least that year. The next seven or eight years of my life will be my physical peak, so the sky is the limit.”
Once he has completed his 10-year career, Hill envisions himself returning to the collegiate level as a coach, and with his background of evolving from a second or third-tier runner into one of the nation’s best, maybe that is the ideal situation for him.
“The bigger my professional resume is the better chance I think I’ll have at getting a coaching job at the college level someday,” Hill said. “I think that is where you can see the best development; where you can see guys that are just kids when they come in, and they can be professionals when they leave. I think that is the best scenario to help someone succeed as an athlete.”
Hill is no stranger to success, as his name is scribbled all over the NC State record book. The Hickory, N.C., native is the Wolfpack’s school record-holder in the mile, 1,500-meter, 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter events. He also ranks ninth in the 10,000 meters.
His record in the mile run was one for the ages, after he broke 39-year-old ACC record of 3:55.0, set back in 1974 by UNC’s Tony Waldrop, with a time of 3:54.89 in the prestigious Wanamaker Mile at the 106th Millrose Games in New York in February. Hill’s time was the fourth fastest ever by a collegian and the second fastest by an American college runner.
What most may not know is that Hill didn’t think he performed very well in the race. In fact, he believes his time could have been better.
“I really didn’t have a great race. I was off the back for most of the race, and I was never really in contention for the win,” Hill said. “I sat too far back, but kicked as hard as I could. I actually probably left a few seconds out there because I didn’t race very well. I don’t really look back on that race fondly. It’s not one of the races I’m proud of because I didn’t think I ran that well.”
There is one race that he holds near and dear however, and that is his 5,000-meter record of 13:26.34 – a mark set in July 2012 at the Ninove Flanders Cup in Belgium.
“It’s so significant because it’s what our program is based upon, and it’s what Coach Geiger knows best,” Hill said. “The 5,000 is kind of our bread and butter, so to have that school record is really special.”
The intriguing part of Ryan Hill’s legacy is that he will likely get better. A reason he might get better could be his admiration for one of the world’s best distance runners and a person he idolizes.
“Bernard Lagat is one of my favorite athletes of all time in track. I love his professionalism and the longevity of his career. I would love to be like him.”
Hill has yet to reach the summit of his career, but once he does, the running world will likely know as soon as everyone else: Ryan Hill is an athlete for the ages.
By Adam Miller