Living Fearlessly: Adoption

June 9, 2016

A friend of mine in Redding, Natalie Putnam, asked me to write a guest blog for her site on adoption.  It was the first time I had taken the time to really sit down and write out my feelings on this journey we have been on the last 10 months.  I wanted to repost it here for all of you as well…

Previous to starting our adoption process Sara had spent a week training in Ethiopia during their cool, damp, rainy season and fallen in love with the country, people, and culture.  We have had the pleasure of traveling all over the world training and racing as professional track and road runners so we can tell when a place grabs our hearts in a unique way.  Sara so raved about Ethiopia that we decided to return the following year (only slightly earlier in the year before the rain arrived) to prepare for the upcoming Boston Marathon.

In between training sessions we spent many afternoons in Addis Ababa visiting orphanages and other family-based care providers. It was on one of these trips that God truly broke my heart for older child adoption. After meeting and playing with the many, many older children in the orphanages I couldn’t help but feel that I would take any one of these kids home with me.

I couldn’t think of a reason to not adopt an older child that wasn’t driven by fear. I seek to make all my decisions in life with a love-based approach so rather than determining ‘I am afraid that I won’t be able to handle the challenges that adoption will hold’ I ask myself, ‘Do I have the love in my heart to love these kids?’ For me the answer to that question was yes. It was that simple.

After that trip we went home and changed all our paperwork to adopt an older child. During this time we began becoming aware (mostly via Facebook) of waiting kids in sibling groups and again my heart burned for these kids, being filled with love from the God who loves these children so deeply. I couldn’t find a good reason, besides fear of failure, to not step up and adopt a sibling group.

Being a professional runner taught me that if I was going to have a chance to win a race I had to take a chance and go out fast with the leaders.  Once I committed to going out with the leaders, I couldn’t afford to let fear creep into my mind because it would weaken me.  I knew that failure was an very real possibility (I failed a lot more than I was successful throughout my 20 year career spanning two Olympic Marathons, the American Record in the half marathon (59:43) and a 2:04:58 marathon best time) but I knew I could get through failure, what I could not accept was not trying to win.  I approached building my family the same way I approached races.  I trained endlessly to exhaustion, learned from the best coaches and athletes in the world, and then went to the races believing anything was possible.

I always liked to be prepared for anything I might encounter from the elements, the course, and my competitors, but at the same time expecting nothing, meaning being open to however my body was feeling and being able to respond moment by moment accordingly.  So when it came to adoption I was a student but then I was also not going to allow fear to creep in once I had committed.  I knew I would fail many, many times as a father but knowing that I didn’t have to be perfect set me free to pursue being a good dad without fear.

During this time of switching home study agencies we became aware of a sibling group of 4 girls ages 5, 8, 12, and 14.  Apparently they had been looking for a home for these girls for quite some time, unsuccessfully.  They were talking of splitting them into two’s since they weren’t able to find a family for them.  The idea of splitting up siblings crushed my heart.  I couldn’t imagine being split apart from my siblings at that age.  I felt immediately that God had put love in my heart for these four girls and wanted to adopt them.  My wife took a more systematic approach, weighing out the pro’s and con’s and deciding if we were at a point in or lives to be both willing and able to adopt four girls.  Ultimately, we decided to travel to Ethiopia and meet the girls and get to know them and let them get to know us without them knowing that we were thinking of adopting them (so they could be free to be themselves around us and not performing for potential parents).  Something that was important to my wife and I was giving the girls choice in choosing us.  Through all the trauma and everything the girls had been through they were never given and choice in any of this, everything just happened to them.  We wanted to empower them to choose us just as we were choosing them.

I am so grateful that my Dad never forced me to run when I was a kid.  I was really into baseball as a kid and just like every other little kid in the U.S. dreamt of one day playing in the Major Leagues.  So even though I was good at running, and my Dad told me I could be a great runner if I wanted to, he never forced me to run.  He waited until I chose running.  If my Dad would have forced me to run I would have never made it through all the very hard seasons of running that awaited me.  The ability to get through hard things comes from inside, a desire that you want to do something.  If you are doing something for someone else or not because you  want it for yourself then you will never get through the hard times.  In the same way, we wanted our kids to choose us because when the hard times come they have to know they choose this path.


During the adoption process I began to understand how aggressively God pursues us in the same way that I had to aggressively pursue my kids. I flew through endless stacks of paperwork, went to never-ending fingerprinting and doctor appointments, met with social workers, paid a large sum of money and patiently waited for that day we would all pull up in our driveway home at last. Adoption is like running.  It is a journey, it’s got hard stretches, but in the end it is a beautiful adventure that is very much worth taking.  Adoption should also be celebrated in the same way that winning a race is celebrated.  The best way we can understand our adoptive Father’s (God) love for us is to adopt for our self.



God does the same for each of us. He pursues. He pays a great price. He longs to be with us. He patiently waits for the day that we make a home with him in our hearts.

Adoption is the greatest thing I’ve done. It’s sweeter than competing in Olympic Games and running American Records because it has increased the love in our house and in my heart.

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  • Reply Heather Montgomery June 10, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Beautifully written Ryan! I have loved following along with your running journey as a runner myself, but even more have loved following your adoption journey. Those are four very lucky little girls! It was so nice to meet you at the 2015 LA marathon and be able to thank you in person for being such a good Christian role model in the sports world. Keep up the good work you two!

  • Reply Lisa Catton June 10, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    Ryan- thank you so much for this post! Very wel written. As a staffer of FCA it is great to see a Christian athlete fully living out their faith on a platform like you have!

  • Reply Betsy Heffernan June 10, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    Wow, such a beautiful story and a beautiful family…God bless your exciting and loving life journey together!?

  • Reply Richard Hessler June 10, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    Thank you Ryan. I cried tears of joy knowing that you and your wife are the future of our country.

  • Reply Tiffany Gust June 11, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    A thank you for sharing your story and your heart. We adopted from Ethiopia 13 years ago this month and our lives are so blessed by having our daughter. We literally share the same heart and have a bond that can’t be explained. Enjoy your Ethiopian Angels. I hope our paths cross and our daughters can meet someday.

  • Reply Steven Woodley June 12, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    Amazing athletes, role models, new parents, lovers of Christ, and hard workers. It takes so much commitment, energy, and focus to be top distance athletes. It takes courageous leaders to share their lives and stories with others. Ryan and Sara are a true blessing to this world we all live in.

    • Reply Tess August 20, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      That’s a smart way of lonkoig at the world.

    • Reply http://www./ March 1, 2017 at 3:24 am

      That’s a slick answer to a challenging question

    • Reply http://www./ March 1, 2017 at 8:17 am

      I could watch Schindler’s List and still be happy after reading this.

  • Reply Larry Weber June 13, 2016 at 1:25 am

    This is a great story of love and selflessness. I applaud the Hall’s for stepping out in faith to touch the lives of others. This story is a true reflection of the love of Christ in their lives. May God bless the entire family as they blend their lives together in the coming years.

    I shared this story with the running team I coach. Many of the kids and parents were inspired by this story. One parent told me that it made her entire day!


  • Reply Michael Harms September 3, 2016 at 12:35 am

    So glad I stumbled upon this post! Reading it was so edifying. Thank you for writing it and for pursuing God’s path and Love rather than fear! My wife and I are on a somewhat similar journey. We met and fell in love with Donald, a 13 year old boy with cerebral palsy, while volunteering in Jamaica. Like you and Sara, we wanted to give him the choice and are so thankful and honored that he chose us to be his parents. We had many fears but ultimately Love won out and after a long process we adopted him and brought him home! Our son, Donald, and I now run too (I push him in a running chair). We both love following you and Sara’s running . We have always been able to relate to you guys and your faith-centered perspective. We didn’t know about you all adopting though. Now we can relate even more! We hope we can meet you and your beautiful family some day and maybe even go for a run together! Thanks again and many blessings!

  • Reply Gail Johnston November 7, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    I read the article about you in The New York Times and now this one. I’m so happy for your new family! I’d like to send you a copy of a children’s book I published for an adoptive mom who, like you, wants to speak to the blessings of adoption. It’s called A Gift for Little Tree. If you’d like, email an address, and I’ll mail you a copy for your family.

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