A few years ago, Jack Ryan knew that one of his former teammates had nominated him for consideration to the University of Colorado’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
A 1968 graduate of CU, Ryan was a national champion for the Buffaloes, but did it in a sport that no longer exists at the school – men’s gymnastics – so Hall of Fame induction never really entered his mind.
“I thought, ‘Well, it might snow in a very hot place before that would happen,” Ryan said.
Yet, it did happen for the only national champion gymnast in school history, as Ryan is one of nine members of the CU Athletic Hall of Fame 2021 class. The class will be inducted during a ceremony the first week of November. This summer, BuffZone.com is profiling each member of the class.
When getting the Hall of Fame call from current athletics director Rick George, Ryan said he thought it was a scam.
“I answered it, and it was a complete shock and unexpected,” he said. “It’s an honor, for sure, but it just caught me by complete surprise.”
Ryan, 75, was a leader of the best team in CU men’s gymnastics history. In 1968, he helped the Buffs go 11-2 and win their only Big Eight championship. They also had their best-ever finish at the NCAA championships, placing sixth for head coach Art White. They did all of that without Bob Fisher, who Ryan said was the Buffs’ top all-around gymnast. Fisher had torn his Achilles’ heel that season.
“I think if Bobby had been healthy, we might have even done better than that, but we felt good about what we did,” Ryan said.
A senior in 1968, Ryan won the national title that year in the side horse – also known as the pommel horse.
Ryan was also a two-time Big Eight champion on the side horse and, as a freshman and sophomore, he placed first in the side horse at the National United States Gymnastics Federation open meets.
Ryan will be the first gymnast inducted into the CU Athletic Hall of Fame, which was established in 1998.
“It means a lot for the sport as much as anything because gymnastics was pretty popular back when I was in high school, and beyond that,” he said.
That popularity has faded, however. In 1980, CU cut men’s gymnastics and six other sports to balance the athletic department budget. There are very few schools around the country still competing in the sport.
“It disappoints me that it’s no longer a sport in the state,” he said. “The state has dropped off quite a bit as far as in high school. Of course, it takes high schools to feed the colleges and then there’s no college to feed. It disappoints me that it’s that way.”
Gymnastics played a significant role in Ryan’s life, however.
A graduate of Aurora Central High School, Ryan won three individual state titles and led his team to two championships. He married his high school sweetheart, Tracey, just a couple of months after graduation and a few weeks before enrolling at CU. The couple had two children while Ryan attended CU and to support his family, he got a job cleaning the gymnastics gym every morning.
“It was $15 a week, which back then bought a lot of groceries,” he said. “I cleaned the gym so I could get some stipend in order to eat.”
He added, “I was privileged to have a scholarship, which helped get me through school. With a family, that was important.”
As a husband, father, engineering major and champion gymnast, Ryan was a busy man during his time at CU. “But, it got us through and we graduated,” he said. “We’ve been married 57 years, so we survived.”
After graduating in 1968 from CU with a degree in applied mathematics from the engineering school, Ryan had a long career in engineering management roles. He and the family moved a lot during his career, living in several different states. Today, Ryan and his wife are retired and living in what he calls “paradise,” just outside of Missoula, Montana.
In November, Ryan plans to be in Boulder for the Hall of Fame ceremony, marking his first visit to CU’s campus since he graduated. He joked that the gym where he and his teammates practiced is “probably a storage area” now, but he’s eager to return to CU later this year.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s a real honor, a humbling honor, and I look forward to being there and representing the sport.”