With his iPod in hand, head phones blocking out the rest of the world, and running shoes on his feet, Tate listened to the rapper’s lyrics on repeat several times during the days leading up to the 2013 CIF State Cross Country Championships as a sophomore at Saugus High School.
“I love his music and message, but his background is also very inspiring,” says Tate. “He grew up extremely poor with no dad and pretty much a dead beat mom and lived in a trailer park in a very ghetto town, and the only way he could get out of there was through rapping.”
It is Eminem’s story, as well as an exceptional work ethic and focus towards the sport, that enabled Tate and his Saugus teammates to capture the school’s first-ever boys state championship on Nov. 30, 2013.
A state championship was never a guarantee when it came to Tate’s future though. Before his sophomore year he competed in baseball, flag football, karate and soccer, but never cross country.
It was not until his physical education teacher noticed he had a talent for running that Tate decided to join a program that is vying for its 10th consecutive state cross country championship this fall.
Ryan remembers the day he and his team won a state championship very well.
“It took a lot of hard work and dedication and a lot of practice time and eating healthy,” says Ryan. “The team chemistry was also important. You have to have a tight bond with the team.
We were also a lot hungrier to win because we had come so close in 2010 and 2012.”
Both of those state final events, two of the most agonizing moments in program history, saw Saugus get overtaken for the championship in the final 400 meters of the 5,000-meter race.
It did not take long for him to become familiar with the Saugus traditions leading up to the championship race in 2013. There were pre-race alumni runs, team dinners, glow stick works and a lot of meetings. There were also several injuries, illnesses and other hurdles to jump over before Saugus ran at full strength.
“Two of our best runners missed most of the season because of stress fractures, and another one quit right before the state meet,” said Ryan. “Dealing with that was obviously so hard, but that didn’t stop us from trying to perform our best.”
When the entire varsity roster finally came together no one could stop them.
The program went on to claim its seventh Foothill League championship in eight years, second CIF Southern Section championship in four years, the school’s first-ever state championship, and just missed qualifying for the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore.
“Honestly it didn’t shock me as much as I thought it would when we finally won because I was kind of used to the program and what it took to be a state champion,” says Ryan. “I had not experienced losing before, so it did not really dawn on me.”
Two years after Saugus’ historic victory at Woodward Park in Fresno, Ryan says he appreciates what he and the program accomplished a lot more than the day they took home the California-shaped trophy because he did not realize how rare taking home a state title was at the time.
“I definitely have a bigger appreciation now because at the time I was so young and new to cross country,” said Ryan. “I think the seniors appreciated it more than me at the time because they had more experience and I was a ‘rook,’ plus they had come so close before.”
In 2014, he and his teammates finished a disappointing third in their bid to repeat as state champions. Third in the state would be a stellar finish in any other other program, but not Saugus.
Ryan and his teammate’s performance in 2013, along with eight other state final races over the last decade, have built quite a foundation for the program. For Saugus, a state championship is an expectation every year.
“The ‘Saugus dynasty’ has truly put pressure on all of our backs, boys and girls,” said Ryan. “It seems that we have to be a champion every year because that is what Saugus has become, a winning phenomenon. We have won the last nine state championships and are looking for the tenth in three weeks.”
His step-mom mentions his work ethic, dedication and knowledge of the sport as factors when it comes to his success in cross country, as well as his bright personality.
“He is a totally different person in all areas of life because of running,” says Sara. “He’s responsible and disciplined, and his dedication, drive and perseverance with his running and to his team are so admirable.
But the quality I love the most about him is through it all, he has stayed so humble. He’s still our peacemaker middle child always doing for others. He is an incredible human being whose been blessed with the gift of running.”
It is those same factors that helped Ryan and his teammates win in 2013 that make him a top contender to win another state championship, this time as an individual, at the end of November.
Now a senior, he is currently ranked No. 2 in the latest division two state rankings and 10th overall in California, according to Erik Boal of DyestatCAL.com.
Saugus has also produced three individual state champions – Shannon Murakami in 2005, Kaylin Mahoney in 2008 and Brian Zabilski in 2014 – to go along with its nine consecutive team crowns.
In Ryan’s eyes, his senior season is a lot different than when he experienced state glory as a sophomore two years ago. He is more experienced, driven and prepared to try to etch his name in Saugus’ illustrious cross country dynasty.
“I have to take the responsibility of being a leader through action and by command, so I would say this year has a lot more pressure because I don not want to let my team down,” says Ryan. “I also have a lot more pressure personally because I have a really good shot at winning state and qualifying for nationals.”
Sara believes his experiences and toughness have been instrumental in Ryan’s road to another possible state cross country championship. He remains undefeated and has broken a handful of school records this fall.
“The thought of him winning state again gives me butterflies,” says Sara. “It would be his greatest accomplishment to date and what a way it would be to end his high school career.”
Ryan’s thoughts mirror his step-mom’s when it comes to striking gold twice at the CIF State Cross Country Championships on Nov. 28.
“I need to kick some ass because it’s my last shot to do it,” says Ryan. “If I was a sophomore or junior I would have have next year to do it, but this is it. Like Eminem says, ‘you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.’”