The USA singlet was sent to Tyler McCandless for the Pan American Games marathon that takes place today in Toronto.
He expected to be wearing it at the starting line of the 26.2-mile race after being chosen for the team in late May.
Instead, that singlet is still in a box at his home in Boulder, Colorado. And the three-time winner of the Kauai Marathon and Kauai half marathon record holder is instead cheering on his neighbor’s children in a swimming competition.
“I’ll be surrounded by positive people,” he said Thursday. “I get to watch the purity of sports, kids doing what they love.”
But he admits it hurts to not wear that USA singlet and represent his country for the first time. And what happened — how he went from the pride and joy of being named to the Pan American marathon team, to the disappointment of being removed just two and a half weeks ago — still stings.
And it likely will for a long, long time.
“Although a career dream come true has now become a nightmare that I won’t be able to wake up from for some time, I will continue to dedicate myself to the sport I love,” he wrote.
“I never thought that accepting a nomination to the Pan Am Games would end in heartbreak.”
It was in late May when McCandless was asked to join the men’s marathon team representing the USA at the Pan American Games in Toronto. USATF, the national governing body for running, nominated McCandless to the US Olympic Committee that oversees the national team and on July 6 McCandless was included in USOC’s press release announcing the full team roster.
It was, he said, the highest honor of his running career.
“It’s hard to describe how excited I was to believe I was to have the opportunity to represent the USA in international competition and to wear the USA singlet,” he wrote. “Those reading my social media posts could see the excitement and I enjoyed the support and encouragement I received back from individuals and race organizations.”
But after the official team announcement, Craig Leon said he had a marathon performance which gave him preference over McCandless in the selection criteria and filed a grievance with the USOC against USATF.
McCandless was selected based on running the 2014 Twin Cities Marathon in 2 hours, 15 minutes and 26 seconds. His time was faster than the 2:16:00 Leon ran at 2014 Chicago Marathon. But the selection committee missed Leon’s 2:14:43 in Houston in January.
On July 10, just two weeks before the Pan-Am games, USATF notified McCandless that they planned to resubmit their team nomination to USOC to remove him from the team due to the oversight in their selection process.
McCandless, to put it bluntly, wasn’t happy about it.
To train for the race, he deferred a full-time job offer. The Penn State graduate with a degree in meteorology and All-American runner pushed back his Ph.D. dissertation defense on solar power forecasting. He passed on other races. His mother even pushed back a necessary hip replacement surgery so she could watch her son compete in Toronto.
“A lot of life was arranged to be able to race,” he said. “I’ve done everything I possibly could.”
He committed nearly two months of intense training to prepare and believed he could be a contender to win. He was confident as he set his sights on the Pan American marathon.
“I’ll never forget the first workout I did once found out I was on the team,” he said. “I was thinking about the point in the race you make or break it. Chills went up my spine thinking about it. I was never that excited about an event before.”
McCandless filed for arbitration to stay on the team. Arbitration, he said, “was not cheap and not fun,” but he felt he had no choice but to fight for what he believed was right. He said he did not violate any rules and the USATF had no right to remove or replace him.
“I stood up for myself,” he said. “Everyone been bullied at sometime in your life. As a 28-year-old, that’s exactly what happened to me.”
The arbitrator sided with USATF’s decision to remove McCandless and put Leon on the team, but also found that USATF was “the sole cause of the extraordinary issues that gave rise to this dispute” and instructed that USATF pay for all arbitration costs.
In a July 24 Runner’s World online article, Edwardo Torres, chairman of USATF’s men’s long distance committee, said he was to blame.
“It’s my fault,” he said.
Stephanie A. Hightower, president and CEO of the USATF, forwarded a Thursday request for comment from The Garden Island to a person with their national office, who did not respond Friday.
There was no apology to McCandless, who remains upset at the situation.
He said USATF “misrepresented the truth in submissions to the arbitrator in what can only be characterized as a personal attack rather than an attempt for justice.”
“It’s heartbreaking when your own national governing body is attacking you,” he said. “I’m kind of just in shock.”
Still, he is determined to create a positive outcome. He said he would rather be known as someone who works hard, achieves goals, encourages and inspires others, especially kids. He plans to compete in the 2016 Olympic marathon trials and hopes to earn a spot on the Olympic team.
Another valuable lesson about running, McCandless added, is that sometimes, you don’t achieve your goal, but you don’t give up. You bounce back and that’s what he plans to do.
He holds no animosity toward Leon and said he is a fine runner.
“Of course, I wish Craig Leon and all of Team USA the best at the Pan American Games and know that he and the team will wear the red, white and blue with pride,” he wrote.
He will return to run the Kauai half marathon on Sept. 6. On island, he’ll continue to promote health and fitness, expand a mentorship program connecting elementary and high school students, and donate shoes to youth from his sponsor, Newton Running.
“The running spirit there really propels me forward,” he said.
As for that USA singlet for the Pan American Games marathon, McCandless is hanging on to it — for now.
“They’ll probably ask for it back and me to pay for it,” he said, laughing.