Running more than sport for SSHS senior Alexandra Tumminello | SteamboatToday.com

Running more than sport for SSHS senior Alexandra Tumminello

Austin Colbert

— Alexandra Tumminello was incredibly close to her uncle, Ryan Shay, one of the top marathon runners in the United States. In 2007, when Tumminello was in the fourth grade, Shay collapsed near the Central Park boathouse in New York City, only five and a half miles into the U.S. Olympic marathon trial.

At 28 years old, Shay was pronounced dead at Lenox Hill Hospital, a shocking piece of news for the running community a day before the New York City Marathon. It is thought he suffered from cardiac arrhythmia, caused by an enlarged heart.

"I loved running when I was a child. Then, after my uncle died, I was kind of turned off by it," Tumminello said. "We were very close. He was probably the person that really got me into running. He taught me a lot about passion and true grit. It was hard."

Tumminello is now a senior at Steamboat Springs High School and a member of the Sailors track team, coached by her mother, Lisa Renee Tumminello. Lisa Renee Tumminello’s sister, Alicia — a two-time NCAA champion at Stanford — was Shay's wife, and was featured in a 2010 article by The New York Times.

Similar to the rest of her family, Alexandra Tumminello has lived with the loss the best she can. She grew up surrounded by elite runners — Alicia and Ryan Shay, married fewer than four months when Ryan died, had been living with the Tumminellos in Denver at the time — something that has made a lasting impression on her life.

Lisa Renee Tumminello talked about how, in Alexandra Tumminello's recent college essays, her daughter reflected on the influence such an upbringing had.

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"It changed all of our lives, and her mentor, her hero, has been my sister in watching her go through that journey of not only being an elite racer, but also losing Ryan," Lisa Renee Tumminello said. "Through her perspective of being a little girl and being surrounded by that, and then also in her essay, talking about how when her uncle died in the U.S. marathon Olympic trials, how it was hard for her to come back to run and to race — I guess I had never really thought about that."

Alexandra Tumminello turned to soccer for many years after her uncle's death, until the discovery of a hip injury forced her to step away from the sport. However, the doctors said she could still run, so in seventh grade she joined a private club team in Denver and has never looked back.

"It was really hard, but knowing I could hold on to running was such a comfort," Alexandra Tumminello said. "So, I joined the cross country team, and then my love for running was fired up. That's when it really hit me that it is something I love so deeply and I'm really passionate about. It's been kind of a crazy ride."

The Tumminellos moved to Steamboat before Alexandra Tumminello's freshman year, and Lisa Renee Tumminello is in her third season coaching the Sailors track and field team. Alexandra has a younger brother, Bowden, a sixth grader. Her father, Doug, recently made headlines for his solo attempt to reach the South Pole.

If it wasn't watching her mother or aunt running elite races, it was being part of something else on a grand scale for Alexandra Tumminello growing up — Doug Tumminello also summited Mount Everest in 2006.

Now, with the end of her high school career fast approaching, she is looking toward her own grand adventures.

"Growing up in this environment with my parents, as an adventurous family, has inspired me to make the most out of life," Alexandra Tumminello said. "It's shown me how extraordinary our lives are. We have this ability and this blessing to be able to take hold of that. So they've kind of taught me to live life on the edge a little bit and to grasp that and to make the most out of every day and every moment."

Alexandra Tumminello will take a gap year after graduation, where she will travel abroad as part of the World Race program. Beginning in August, she will live out of a backpack for nine months, spending three months each in Thailand, Malawi and Guatemala, doing everything from teaching in schools to confronting sex trafficking issues.

What role running holds in her future is an unknown. She has an offer from Wheaton College, located outside Chicago, to run for them when she returns. Northern Arizona University is also being looked at, considering it's located in Flagstaff, the home of Alicia Shay, who is now part of Nike's elite trail running team.

Whatever Alexandra Tumminello decides, there is little doubt about the influence running has had on her life.

"We've all walked that journey. Then to see Alexandra, or hear in her writing, how running and racing just brings so much joy in her life … that's what we want to do with all of our athletes," Lisa Renee Tumminello said. "She will literally live out of a tent and a backpack and a mosquito net for nine months. It will make running seem easy."

To reach Austin Colbert, call 970-871-4204, email acolbert@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Austin_Colbert