Record-breaking UB sprinter Ryan Billian looks to achieve his Olympic Dream
When Ryan Billian was younger, his mom used to tell him he was wasting his talent.
Billian played a ton of sports when he was younger, excelling at them all but never specialized in one. He played soccer, track, baseball, bowling, archery, football, tennis, golf and volleyball.
Now, Billian is determined to maximize his own potential in just one sport: track and field.
Billian is one of the most decorated athletes at UB. He holds records in the indoor 60-meter hurdles and long jump. In outdoor, he has records in the 100-meter dash, is tied for the 200-meter dash, the 110-meter hurdles, long jump and the 4x100-meter relay.
He has been running track for 17 years and now he only wants one thing: to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in the 100-meter dash.
The USA track and field standards to qualify for the Olympic Trials in 2016 was 10.15. Billian’s current best time in the event is a 10.35, and he is hoping to get his time down to a 10 flat by this year.
“My grandma is already learning Japanese,” Billian said in reference to the 2020 Olympics taking place in Tokyo, Japan.
Billian’s family believes in him. The Olympics are nothing more than a dream for most people. But for Billian, the Olympics are an obtainable goal. A solid support system is crucial and having teammates and coaches willing to help obtain his aspirations is necessary.
“He is definitely going to be a professional athlete in one of his events if not all of them,” said senior captain and pole-vaulter Dan Normoyle. “The sky is the limit really… the Olympics, there is no cap. It just depends on the situation he gets put in with the right coach and right environment.”
Billian is willing to put in the work needed to get to the Olympics. While most other UB track athletes only train twice a day, Billian trains three times.
“I had Olympic aspirations the last cycle ,” Billian said. “2020 Tokyo definitely… My expectations for myself are high. So I definitely have aspirations that are high and I want to accomplish everything my body can possibly accomplish… I want to be at the highest level at one time.”
Coming in as a freshman, Billian was an underdog. He was eager to prove himself but it took time for him to become one of the team’s leaders.
“I had people that were near me or better than me in a lot of my events so that helped push me to get ahead of them and then once I was among the fastest or among the furthest jumper, then it’s really about internalizing introspecting and figuring out what tweaks I have to make in order to perform better,” Billian said.
Being an athlete in Buffalo is tough. With the weather and facilities at UB, it is not easy. Being “gritty” is a part of being a Division-I athlete.
“I live life in second place; you have to live life in second place. You can’t be complacent,” Billian said. “You can be satisfied at times with your achievements but there is always that hunger. You always want more for yourself… the environment of Buffalo really forces you to clench your teeth together and get through what you are getting through. You’ve been through worse before.”
There aren’t top-notch facilities at UB. Although Billian says the coaches are great, he knows they are not Olympic caliber coaches. Billian is aware of this and uses it as a chip on his shoulder to work harder.
“The combination of the facilities we have here, the coaching, the environment, all that it is not the greatest set up,” Billian said “But it is where I am, it is where I chose to be, it is who brought me in. There are times when I have gotten pissed. People in Texas, Florida, Arkansas, California, Oregon, they have a better situation than I have.”
Billian has to look past the wooden track and having legs so powerful that the ground moves when he explodes off the blocks.
“There have been times where I have said that is not fair,” Billian said. “I’m pushing myself to get past the bulls**t. Screw the environment. Screw the facilities and screw the situation that I’m in.”
That attitude of self-motivation and thinking out of the box allows there to be endless growth. Billian plans on moving after college to train for the 2020 Olympics. He feels once he takes his work ethic to a different environment, he will make tremendous strides.
“We are flowers growing out of concrete.” Billian said.
In order to reach a goal, an athlete must make sacrifices. Billian is aware of this and so is head coach Vicki Mitchell.
“Some will call it sacrifices, I call it a lifestyle.” Mitchell said. “If you want to be the lifestyle of an excellent Division-I athlete, you are going to have to make those adaptations, those adjustments to what you do on a daily basis to be great and Ryan does that.”
One sacrifice Billian does not make is with his diet. He eats pepperoni pizza, cinnamon toast crunch, chicken and pasta. On his recruiting trip to Buffalo, his love for pizza became apparent right away.
“When I was on my recruiting trip we [my coach and mom] went to Wegmans and [the coach] had given me money to get food.” Billian said. “I came back with a frozen DiGiorno pizza. My coach and mom were just hysterical and my mom kept apologizing for me, and coach said ‘you know I meant something fresh we can eat right now?’ and he loves to bring that story up.”
Billian knows 10 seconds in the 100-meter dash is what will get him to the Olympics. Without Buffalo, he recognizes he would not be where he is today.
“At the end of the day, there is not a question in my mind I wouldn’t pay respect to Buffalo,” Billain said. “They played a five-year part in the reasoning of why I am where I am. So I really feel like there is an inevitable respect that has to be paid because that is where I found my aspiration to become an Olympic athlete.”
Jeremy Torres is a sports staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org