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In one of the world's distinguished Olympic towns, the soon-to-be Olympian wears a thick mustache, backward visor and blinding electric-green top as he swings his young son by his ankles.
It's a warm, windy day at City Park in Park City, and Jared Ward just finished off a 30-minute run around the place he'll again call home for the next few weeks. He swings 4-year-old Paul, while wife, Erica, does the same with their 2-year-old daughter, Ellie.
On a paved trail a dozen or so yards away from the patch of grass, runners and cyclists zip by, glancing at the young family. Paul eventually challenges his dad to a race on the trail. Ellie follows her big brother, and as always, Jared obliges.
Ward, 27, has gone from Davis High standout to BYU star to qualifier for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, now five weeks away.
Suddenly, he's in demand all the time. He's asked to speak to young, enterprising runners. He has an engagement at the Salt Lake City Running Company in about an hour, so after Paul and Ellie beat him in their latest race, he places his son on his shoulders, his daughter in his arms and walks briskly to their car.
Erica, who is seven months pregnant, is not far behind. They're high school sweethearts, and she recalls watching her future husband run, asking herself how that thin, lanky kid grew faster as races went on. She realized in high school that Ward could potentially someday if he empowered himself the way she thought he could become an Olympian.
"If that's something he chose to do," she said, "he could do it."
Professor Ward • When Erica Ward calls her husband "a numbers guy," she means it. If he's not keeping an internal clock motoring on in his brain or calculating times and mileage and speed, he's teaching advanced statistics as an adjunct professor at his alma mater.
Office hours? They're fluid, Ward said, laughing. "I often amend them." His schedule ended in mid-April and will pick up in the fall after he returns from Rio.
"The plans are ever-changing," he said. "I love teaching, and I'm excited about it and can see it in my future, but who knows what's next?"
So, he's one of the top-three marathoners in the country and a brainiac. Lynn Ward owned an ice business in Davis County when Jared was a kid. He wanted to work for his dad. When dollars and cents needed adding up, Jared was on the spot. If something stopped working, Jared was called upon.
Ward's mind has worked to his advantage during his meteoric rise in marathon running. It's all up there. If there are numbers that need crunching, or probability percentages hammered out, Ward's usually on it. Two-time Olympic runner and BYU track & field coach Ed Eyestone said the calculations Ward can do help his pacing and round out his skill set.
"Everything just all combines to make him a pretty special athlete in regards to understanding the big picture, understanding what it takes, and coupling his talent and his hard work and his perseverance and his passion with the knowledge [from] his statistical background helps him have an even fuller understanding," said Eyestone, who still serves as Ward's coach.
His master's thesis was based on pacing strategy in a marathon. Seriously.
A road filled with crossing sheep • This stay in Park City isn't the first. The Wards spent some time there before the U.S. Olympic Team Trial in Los Angeles. Athletes especially distance runners welcome the altitude training, and in Park City, Ward's running as much as 120 miles a week over 7,000 feet.
But his path to Rio also took them in search of alternative training areas. While teaching a semester at BYU, they stayed near Strawberry Reservoir in Wasatch County. Then there were the weekends where they moved to Lyman, a suburb if you can call it that of Loa in Wayne County. It's about a 30-minute drive to Capitol Reef National Park. The elevation there is higher than that of Park City. There were days when Erica would drive to and from the rental house where long stops were required due to the flocks of sheep that took their sweet time crossing the road.
Ward's first marathon came in October 2013, in Chicago. Eyestone suggested it as Ward waited through his four-year battle with the NCAA over eligibility. His appeal to have his fourth year of eligibility was reinstated by a subcommittee after the NCAA previously ruled Ward's participation in a recreational "fun run" gave him a "competitive advantage." He was given the green light a month after his first marathon.
Prepping for Chicago wasn't that much of a change. To a guy who was running 90 or 95 miles a week, what's another 20 or 25? The workouts and intervals were tweaked. Ditto for the tempo of his runs.
"Everything became a little bit longer and slower," Ward explained. "Training during that [Chicago] marathon, I fell in love with that distance, fell in love with training for a marathon before ever racing in a marathon. It seemed more natural."
An All-American in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter events at BYU, Ward suffered a stress reaction fracture in his leg his senior year that developed into a fully fractured fibula when he ran at the NCAA regional meet that year.
"That's kind of the classic example of the Jared Ward grit," Eyestone said.
After recovering, Ward consulted Eyestone, Erica and other running peers about the possibility of turning this into a career. He told himself he was cut out for distance running. Once he made that choice to go pro, he had immediate aspirations of making a national team.
"I don't think I had anything further than a dream of making the Olympic team," he said.
That suddenly became a realistic goal on a hot day in Southern California.
At the 2015 L.A. Marathon, Ward finished what many called a surprising third overall and claimed the U.S. Championship, running 2 hours, 12 minutes and 56 seconds. About a month later, Ward completed that thesis, and took aim at the Rio qualifier.
Forty seconds • Once 2012 Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp announced his entry into the trial marathon, Eyestone told Ward the three available spots had been cut down to two. Rupp is noted as the premier American distance runner, so Eyestone needed to keep expectations realistic for Ward's fourth marathon.
That aside, Eyestone said, "A marathon isn't so much about beating all these competitors as much as it's beating the 26.2 miles if you can control the controllable. You can't control what other people do in their race, but you can control what you do."
Said Ward: "If there were three people who finished faster than me and I put on my best race, then that's OK."
Once Mile 16 rolled around, Ward found himself alone in fourth place when Tyler Pennel, who had pulled away from Ward at Mile 21 at the 2014 Twin Cities Marathon in Duluth, Minn., was making a familiar surge. Rupp and Meb Keflezighi joined Pennel. Ward did not. He waited, calculating when he would make his own move. Pennel faded around Mile 19. Ward glided right by as the temperatures grew warmer. In third place, Ward didn't relent.
Rupp finished first at 2 hours, 11 minutes and 12 seconds. Keflezighi came in second, just over a minute later. Then there was a 40-second break.
At 2 hours, 12 minutes and 50 seconds, Ward picked up speed down the straightaway. Exhausted, a smile crept across this face as he saw the finish line inch closer. Rio became reality at 2 hours and 13 minutes even.
Waiting for him was Keflezighi, who had an American flag clutched in his left hand.
Keflezighi said every cycle there are about six or seven runners who are true contenders to make the team. Followers might've been caught off-guard by Ward finishing third and qualifying, but not him.
"No," Keflezighi said, "I don't think Jared was a surprise qualifier."
The 41-year-old hugged Ward and patted him on the back a few times. Ward took six steps before falling to his knees and elbows onto the pavement.
'Sky's the limit' • Jared Ward won't truly lace them up until the last day of the Rio Games on Sunday, Aug. 21. That same night if he's feeling up for it he'll sport his all-white Polo Ralph Lauren ensemble in the Closing Ceremonies. But what about the two-plus weeks leading to that point? Lots of relaxing. Ward said he's planned two or three quality workouts before the marathon.
"Light runs," he calls what he anticipates will be 10 miles.
Eyestone is going, as is Lynn Ward. They've discussed potentially visiting Iguazu Falls as an opportunity to relax and leave hectic Rio aside for a day or two. Erica and the kids won't be there, so Ward will be without his support staff before the biggest race of his young marathoning career.
Erica worries about the heat and humidity in Rio. She remembers at the Chicago Marathon when Jared was on pace for a two-hour, 12-minute finish, but felt severe tunnel vision the last five miles. He later told his wife, "That's how the body would feel when it was going to die."
Pacing and speed and planning is what Ward's best at, but there is more to his success. That's Erica and Paul and Ellie. His wife believes that's why he's such a productive distance runner. He stays out of his head.
"Not all his eggs are in the running basket," she said. "Other things can make him happy."
There's always family time, running time and teaching time. When they lived in Provo, Ward would take the kids to the park to play, then meet up with running partners and then tend to office hours.
"Perfect," said Ward.
"People enjoy being around him for that very reason," Eyestone said. "You hang up the phone after talking to him, and you feel like the sky's the limit in terms of what you can do, as well."
Meet Jared Ward
Age • 27
Sport • Marathon
Hometown • Kaysville
High school • Davis High School
College • BYU
The professor • Ward is also an adjunct statistics professor at BYU, teaching two advanced courses
Running career • Four-time All-American at BYU (Outdoor 10,000 meters twice, cross-country, 5000 meters). Chicago Marathon, 2013 (2:16:17), Twin Cities Marathon, 2014 (2:14:00), L.A. Marathon, 2015 (2:12:56), U.S. Olympic Team Trials, 2016 (2:13:00)
Men's marathon in Rio • Sunday, Aug. 21, final day of Rio Games