CENTRAL LAKE -- Ryan Shay ran countless hours along the roads of Antrim County in pursuit of his Olympic dream.
On Sunday, eight days after Shay's sudden death, hundreds of mourners followed one of Shay's favorite training routes to reach Dunsmore Cemetery near Central Lake, where he was buried as darkness fell.
The 28-year-old Shay, diagnosed with an enlarged heart as a teenager, collapsed and died 51/2 miles into the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City on Nov. 3. The cause of death remains undetermined.
"Ryan loved northern Michigan," Shay's father, Joe, said in the days leading up to Sunday's funeral. "The first thing he did with the money he won as a professional was buy property here, just down the road from us.
"His dream was to come back and build a house, raise a family. He was doing what he had to do to become a better runner (by training in Flagstaff, Ariz.), but he always talked about coming home."
An estimated 500 mourners, wearing blue-and-gold lapel ribbons embossed with the logo of Notre Dame, Shay's alma mater, attended Sunday's memorial at the Harvest Barn Church in East Jordan. Shay and his wife, Alicia, who were married on July 7, attended services at the church whenever they visited northern Michigan.
Among those in attendance were Mary Wittenberg, chief executive of the New York Road Runners, which hosted the Olympic Trials; Abdi Abdirahman, a two-time Olympian who lived with the Shays in Flagstaff; Brian Sell, who finished third in the trials and will compete in the 2008 Summer Games at Beijing; and dozens of former college teammates, competitors and running officials -- "a virtual who's who of running," Wittenberg said.
"Ryan touched everyone," Wittenberg said. "A loss like this affects an entire community, and Ryan was very much at the front and center of our community.