Jim Ryun was ranked the greatest high school athlete of all time by ESPN. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated seven times before the age of 25. He has an Olympic silver medal.
On Friday, the athlete-turned-politician added to his list of accolades with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ryun, who served as a representative from Kansas between November 1996 and January 2007, was awarded the medal in a White House ceremony. No masks were worn by speakers, which included Ryun, his children Catharine and Ned, and President Donald Trump. The ceremony was also streamed live to the public.
“Jim has personified the greatness of this country throughout his life, whether he was running on a track race or whether he was doing anything he was, running an office or running for office,” Trump said in the ceremony. “He’s a giant of American athletics, a dedicated public servant and a man of charity, generosity and faith.”
Ryun told the story of how he was cut from his church baseball team as well as the junior high basketball team. So he prayed, asking for a plan in his life that included sports in some way. As soon as he joined the track team his sophomore year of high school, he began winning races and didn’t stop. Ryun was the first high-school athlete to ever break a four-minute mile.
In his acceptance speech, Ryun also referenced athletes’ repeated anthem protests and disrespecting the flag. Athletes have repeatedly said that the protests have nothing to do with the flag or military.
“In an age when many think it’s appropriate to dishonor our flag, I will tell you, it is one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life to represent this amazing country and represent the stars and stripes on my chest while racing in the 60s and 70s,” Ryun said. “There was such pride and love of country and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your full-throated championing of this great country.”
He also referred to Trump as “one of the greatest Republican presidents.”
Catharine and Ned also spoke briefly at the ceremony. Catharine said she was proud to be Ryun’s daughter, while Ned spoke of his father’s graciousness.
“You can have a conversation with my dad and when he talks with his fans and gives them autographs and he shares a few moments with them, the graciousness that is displayed is an example to me as his son,” Ned said. “The integrity and the honesty, the nobility he is shown in life, if I can be half the man that he is, it would be a triumph.”
In speaking of Ryun, Trump said that the former Congressman was “principled, committed, tough and beloved” and said, “I wish we had him now.”
During his tenure, Trump has awarded the Medal of Freedom to several other athletes, including Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth and Mariano Rivera.
The White House’s official release said the medal is awarded to “individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”