Jared Ward can attribute his success as a runner to his service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, when he came home from serving as a missionary in Pennsylvania, it seemed like the opposite was true.
Ward returned from his mission 20 pounds heavier, only having “trained” 30 minutes a day for two years, and too late in order to enroll in Brigham Young University’s Fall semester and compete with the BYU cross-country team.
As he waited and prepared to return to school in the winter, he went to his younger brother’s high school cross-country meet. Before the race began, they invited family members and friends to participate in a fun run. Many people were in costume for a 16 minute race that included a spectrum of participants from kids to grandparents. Ward ran the race. Because this event was organized and timed, the NCAA ruled that he was disqualified from college athletics.
Although the NCAA later overturned the ruling, it was because of this setback that Ward decided to focus on training for a marathon, and Ward saw this obstacle as a blessing:
“It was certainly making the best of a bad situation, but it probably ended up being a blessing in the long run. To get that early exposure to the marathon, it certainly has become my best race. I think a lot of times those things that seem like trials and heartaches at the onset can be blessings in disguise in the future. And I think that was the case in this case.”
This certainly seems to be true.
Ward won the third marathon he competed in. It was a hot day and the race was pushed back half an hour in attempt to compensate for the heat. Twenty-six thousand people competed in the L.A. Marathon, which doubled as the the 2015 U.S. National Championship. Although he came in third in the race, he was the first American to cross the finish line, making Ward the United States National Champion for 2015.
Nearly a year later, on February 13, 2016, Ward finished third in the Olympic Trials, earning him a spot on the U.S. team for the 2016 Brazil Olympics with Meb Keflezighi and Gelen Rupp. Ward says as he ran the race he wasn’t sure that he would qualify for the Olympics. With about eight miles left, other runners began pulling away from him but Ward chose to stay with his original planned pace. Ward told reporters:
“I don’t know that I had an inclination whether someone was going to come back or not but I felt like I was gonna finish the race as fast as I could and see what happened.”
His time was 2:13:00.
Ward went to Davis High School in Kaysville, Utah, where he ran both cross-country and track. He has earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Statistics from Brigham Young University. His thesis was titled “Optimal Pace Strategy in a Marathon.” He now teaches at BYU in Provo as he trains for the Olympics and cares for his wife Erica and two children, Paul and Ellie.