Clay looking for heir to the throne
IT was raining. Cold. There was thunder, lightning, wind. A long delay, as the elite professional athletes took shelter where they could, before finally leaving the track, running away like kids finally admitting it was time to go in. Everyone was wet. Didn't matter. These were the conditions. This was when they would run.
"The weather," Bryan Clay would say, "was, I guess you could say, really bad."
"Torrential," the Associated Press said then.
And when it was over the photographers all flocked around Clay. They all wore jackets and raincoats, long sleeves and hoods. Everything they could in order to keep warm and dry. But the only extra protection against the elements worn by Clay was an American flag, around his shoulders. And a smile that shone like the sun.
This was what the soaked photographers wanted: the picture of victory.
On a rainy summer night in Helsinki, Finland, Clay had become the greatest athlete in the world.
There have been numerous accounts of Clay's performance in the rain at track and field's 2005 World Outdoor Championships. He'd won the decathlon title by the widest margin in that meet in 14 years. The descriptions all raved about his "grit," his "heart," in putting together such an effort in such relentless weather, soaking wet.
And yes, the man who won decathlon silver in the Athens Games would also say that this one had been the toughest, the most mentally trying meet he'd ever had.
But there was something else.
"I think it went OK because of course I grew up in Kaneohe," Bryan Clay would say, "trained at Castle."
Of course. You knew that when it came to becoming the World's Greatest Athlete, a kid from Kaneohe would win it running in the rain.
THIS IS SUCH a good time. The world championship, yes. The Olympic silver medal. But more than that. There's a reason he's been able to do those things.
Clay looks at his wife, Sarah, and his new son, Jacob. He talks about being lucky, blessed. "I have my priorities straight," he says, sounding like a man who's figured it out. That's simplified everything, it seems. It felt like everything just got easier, after that.
They're home in Hawaii now, for a short time. He's making a few public appearances. But mostly, this is the first real vacation he's had in a long, long time. Years, really. They sit on the beach. They take walks.
He needed this break.
"Because my body is just falling apart," he says.
"I've been getting MRIs on my shoulders and getting them to check out my feet and my knees because stuff just hurts. You could only do it for so long without taking a break."
He'll be back at it again sometime next month. There will be another world championship to train for, the Olympics in 2008. This is when the experts say the still-maturing Clay should be at his absolute decathlon peak.
He looks at his family again. It doesn't sound too challenging for a man who already feels so much at peace.
IT'S CLEAR BRYAN Clay has been doing a great deal of thinking lately. The questions he answers aren't always the ones he was asked. But that's OK. Sometimes those answers are even more interesting to hear.
"I'm not sure yet," he says. "I'm not sure exactly how it's going to be done. You know, I've got lots of dreams, lots of things that I want to do. You know, one of the things is going to be am I going to be able to come back to Hawaii and maintain my life. Right now we're blessed enough that my wife doesn't have to work, she can stay home with our baby. And that's something that's very important to me, very important to her. I don't know if we can come back to Hawaii and own a house and still have her do that. If we could, I think I'd move back in a heartbeat. But opportunity, it's just -- opportunity is not the same.
"If the opportunity presented itself to come back, or when it does present itself, I'm definitely going to come back. But until then I think I'm going to have to keep doing what I'm doing now."
This is the same speech -- almost word for word -- given by local families living in California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon.
"It's just too hard. It's just too hard," Clay says.
RUNNING. HE'S ALWAYS loved it. There was always just something about it. Something he could feel in his chest.
He wants these kids that he meets to feel it, too.
"I'd like them to know it's fun," he says. "There's nothing else like getting on the track and being next to one or two or eight other people and knowing that you are going to race them and if you win it's because you did it.
"The competition and the competitive spirit that happens between you and those other runners, it's just ... there's nothing else like it. It's unbelievable."
Of course, track is not very glamorous, these days. Even the youthful exuberance of running free out on the grass dies out quickly, when every time you screw up you're told to take a lap.
No, running is for masochists -- everybody knows that. Track is something you do on the side. Besides, video games are cool now. You can always hit the re-set button. You can conquer entire universes without getting off the couch.
Clay says he's seeing this more and more.
"They just don't realize that you have to work hard for something if you really want it," he says of today's youth. "You can't just walk up: 'Oh, I want to do track today,' and if it doesn't work, quit. People quit so easy nowadays."
Exactly. Kids! The punks.
It should be noted that Clay is 25.
Still, he hasn't given up on us yet. He wants kids to feel those feelings. He wants them to run. He wants them to share in the exhilaration.
The world's greatest athlete is from Kaneohe. He wants them to see that.
HE DREAMS. HE'S set up a foundation, the Bryan Clay Foundation, and he dreams of millions of dollars coming in, of giving away thousands of scholarships to local kids. Of building tracks, places where people can run. He wants it to live, to lift Hawaii kids long after he's dead and gone.
"It's kind of starting out like my dream that I wanted to go to the Olympics," he says. "It was just a dream that I had. I didn't know that it was going to come true."
And that's the point, isn't it? His life story is so incredible, the peace that he feels is so pure. It took him a long time to find himself, to know how he wanted to live his life. Now he realizes sometimes all a kid needs to get started is a spark. His was track.
"I'm the smallest one out there," he says. "I think a lot of people have told me that I couldn't do it. A lot of people thought that I was maxed out. In fact every year I've got somebody who thinks, 'Oh, he's not going to get any better; he's completely maxed out.' "
Instead, he's getting better all the time.
Everything's getting better all the time.
He looks at his wife and son. It's all been so simple since he set his priorities. He knows more Hawaii kids can have this. Maybe they won't become world champions, but they can find themselves. They can blossom.
Maybe if more people would just get out and run in the rain.
"You do have to stay very focused and you do have to work hard," he says. "But I think those lessons you have to learn during track, they correlate directly with life. In life, it doesn't matter what you're doing, if you want to be successful you're going to have to focus. You're going to have to work hard. There's going to be a few sacrifices that you're going to have to make.
"But that's part of it," says Bryan Clay, who will be at a free (while tickets last) Kids Fest event today at Bishop Museum from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. "That's part of it."