It all started with Stephan Shay's older sister. When she started running competitively, her success inspired the rest of Joe and Susan Shay's children. It became almost a family tradition as the siblings all began to consider running as their sport of choice.
By the time Shay, the youngest of the eight siblings, came along, the family was used to the children trying the sport to see if they would be good at it.
And he was.
In high school in Central Lake, Mich., Shay was a four-time conference champion who won every meet his senior year and set 12 meet or course records. He began his college career by placing third at the Jeff Drenth Memorial, leading his team, although running unattached, his second year, and winning the Spartan Invitation in 2006. That year, he also placed 16th at the Pre-NCAA Meet, 14th at the Big Ten Championships and 142nd at the NCAA Championships with a time of 32:59.2.
Shay is currently one of the top runners for the BYU men's cross country team. A transfer from Michigan State, he has already made a place for himself on the BYU team in his first season with them.
"He's stepped into the role as a team leader," said Chandler Goodwin, captain of the men's team and Shay's roommate.
Shay certainly leads on the course. He has already earned the Mountain West Athlete of the Week Award for his performance in the team's only home meet this season, where he ran the 4-mile course in 19:29.3 and placed second overall.
With the loss of Josh Rohatinsky and other team members to graduation, Shay's transfer came at an ideal time for the cross country team.
"It's been nice having someone else to train with," Goodwin said.
Shay, who came on a BYU recruiting trip over the summer, was impressed with the campus, team and coach from the beginning.
"I got along with the team right away," he said.
His good experience at BYU came as a result of Shay's choice to transfer out of the running program at Michigan State. The atmosphere, along with sharing similar goals with teammates, has helped make Shay's second college experience a positive one.
"I am more focused and I think that I have more confidence," Shay said about running at BYU.
There are a lot of changes for Shay that came with the transfer. In Michigan, he trained seven days a week as opposed to the BYU schedule, which advises taking Sunday off every week. Even with the rest, Shay estimates that he runs about 75 miles each week.
"The day's rest really helps me recover," Shay said. "I think it's more beneficial than anything."
Another adjustment has been Utah itself, which is a change from his home in Michigan, 10 minutes away from Lake Michigan. Shay said he really enjoys the outdoors, and, although it is different, he liked Utah right away.
"I loved the mountains," Shay said.
He has also enjoyed running under coach Ed Eyestone, a former Olympian.
"He's really laid back, but he knows when to get down to business," Shay said.
Shay has been able to get along with his teammates both in and outside of practices. He and Goodwin live with two other athletes: Keith Jensen (an 800 runner for the BYU track team) and Lance Walker, who competes in hurdles for the track team.
"There's never a dull moment," Goodwin said, adding that they all get along and enjoy spending time together.
Shay said Goodwin helps keep everything relaxed between the roommates, who spend plenty of time focusing on their sports but also share other interests.
"We're not all about running all the time," Shay said.
Some of Shay's other interests include going to chiropractic school after he completes his undergraduate degree in exercise science. He hopes to keep running throughout his life and is open to the chance to run professionally out of college.
"I'd take advantage of that," he said.