But less than 10 minutes after she arrived at 7 a.m., Ryan discovered the region championship would be the final race of her high school running career.
Due to a clerical error, Ryan had been listed as a junior varsity runner, rather than a varsity one.
Instead of running with the Lady Grizzlies’ varsity squad for a place at state, she would be participating in the region’s JV race, which has no state competition of its own.
“I was shocked,” Ryan said of her initial reaction when she discovered that she would not be competing with the varsity team. “I couldn’t believe that it was going to be my last race, and that I couldn’t run it with the varsity girls I had been running with all season long.”
Ryan was forced to look on as Creekview went on to finish fourth without her, advancing to the state competition for the second time in two years.
Last year, a stress fracture in her right leg sidelined Ryan for almost the entire season, which included the region and state meets.
Rather than let the situation get her down, Ryan outraced the entire JV field — winning with a time of 21 minutes, 30 seconds — to end her cross country career on a high note.
Ryan’s exclusion from the varsity squad came not as an intentional decision by Creekview coach Tyrom Brown, but a complete accident.
On Oct. 15, Brown submitted his final roster for the region championships — a roster that was meant to have Ryan’s name on it.
“By some stupid and irresponsible oversight, I errantly entered another runner’s name on our team that started with an ‘M’ when I read Madeline’s name on my handwritten list that the coaches and I had decided upon early that day,” Brown said.
After realizing his mistake, Brown contacted the Georgia High School Association and Region 7AAAAA secretary Don Corr to see if the mistake could be corrected.
While Brown never received a response from the GHSA, Corr told the coach that the change would be made.
Confident that Ryan would be cleared to race, Brown told her two days before the race that she would be able to compete as a member of the varsity squad.
“He told me that he had gotten it all sorted out, and they promised to fix it,” Ryan said.
That would not be the case, however, as Corr informed Brown the night before the race that no change could be made.
The next morning, an hour before the varsity girls race began, Brown was forced to tell Ryan that she would only be able to run with the JV squad.
“It was definitely one of the saddest moments of my life,” Brown said. “I was genuinely upset. I hated telling her that. But after I told her, she said, ‘Tell me what time the JV race starts.’ I was really proud of her stepping up.”
Despite the emotions, Ryan refused to let the news get her down.
“I cried. It was an emotional moment,” Ryan said. “But, after a while, I wiped my tears away, and said, ‘OK, if this is my last race, then I’m going to win.’”
Not only did Ryan win, she set a personal record.
“I couldn’t believe I won,” she said. “I beat out two runners for Pope, who always has a really strong team. At the finish line, I was in pain, but I was so happy and relieved. I think I ran faster than I would have in the varsity race because of my motivation to run that race hard.”
“She didn’t let the bad news stop her from giving it her best,” the coach said.
Waiting for Ryan at the finish line was the majority of the Creekview cross country team.
“My teammates definitely made me feel better about the ordeal,” Ryan said. “It was hard, having to find out that I would be racing JV for my final race at Creekview, but through the experience, I discovered how supportive my team was.”