Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Rick Ensz
As Memorial Stadium sees its last days as a track and field arena, Rick Ensz, a former runner for the Jayhawks, reflects back on what it was like to run with some of the best in the stadium.
Ensz was part of the 1980 men’s team that won both the indoor and outdoor track titles for what at the time was the Big Eight Conference. His best events were the 1,000 meters, in which he was the indoor champion, and the two-mile relay of which he was a member of the relay team that finished sixth at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
For Ensz, track was a lot more than just running, it helped shape him into the man that he is today. Much of what he learned from being a student-athlete at the University of Kansas he continues to reflect back on years after he has graduated.
“Athletics has taught me a lot in terms of perseverance, motivation and discipline,” Ensz said. “It has certainly helped me in my professional career.”
School was just as important to this student-athlete, if not more important. He recognized that track and field was not a career in itself. With this realization, the star runner knew that his education is what he would have after he graduated and completed his collegiate career. Though he would continue running, it would be more of a hobby than anything else.
Ensz has many memories of running at Memorial Stadium and as hard as it may be to see part of his past come to an end, he is quite excited for the new Rock Chalk Park that is currently being constructed and scheduled to be completed soon. He thinks that it will bring a lot of good things for the sport of track and field at KU.
“I have mixed feelings, but I’m excited about the program having the opportunity to have its own facility,” Ensz said. “It is a more intimate facility where people will be closer to the athletes and competition. Having a track and field facility by itself will bring a lot of excitement to the program.”
As memories were flooding back to Ensz, he shared one particular story that was a highlight of his collegiate career. The Wichita native grew up with fellow track star, Jim Ryun, an elite runner who held the world record by running the first sub-four minute mile by a high schooler. Growing up in the same town as the world record holder, Ryun served as motivation for Ensz to be successful on the track himself.
“When I was growing up, Jim Ryun went to Wichita East and I went to Wichita South. To break the state record you had to break the world record, I had to set my goals high,” Ensz said as he laughed entertaining the idea of having to beat a world record in order to get a school record. “Then at the beginning of my freshman year [at KU] Jim Ryun came back from school in California to train under Coach Bob Timmons. So here I am, an 18-year-old kid, and I am running miler workouts with Jim. It was really heavy stuff for me because I was a freshman, just a kid, running workouts with a world-record holder, getting to know him and getting to run with my childhood idol. It was really great.”
Another special, and more recent, memory that Ensz holds dear to his heart is getting to honor last year’s men’s track and field seniors with their K rings. Getting to see young men come out on top of the rigorous schedule of being a competitive athlete while also completing school was a special sight for Ensz to see. Everything had come full circle.
With all the emotions that the experience brought back, there was not one negative thought that came to Ensz’s mind. His experience as a student-athlete was all positive, and it was exciting for Ensz to think of all that these young men had ahead of them.
“Seeing all the young, ambitious kids who have had a lot of success on the track brought back a lot of memories,” Ensz said. “In terms of competing and having all the fun, as well as weathering the tests. You could see that they had a whole future in front of them, getting out of school and moving forward onto their professional careers. It was exciting.”
Ensz has a lot of pride for the University of Kansas. Just putting on his letterman’s jacket overwhelms the former student-athlete each time. The alum had a hard time putting what it meant to be a Jayhawk into words, as it is hard for him to summarize such a life-impacting four years.
“To be a Jayhawk, I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Ensz said after a joyous smile filled his face. “It was a great fit for me. My experience, my perception, and my love for the University in both the School of Engineering and also the athletic department, is hard to form into words. I couldn’t be happier with the way things turned out.”
Ensz’s time as a Jayhawk was more than just being an athlete, but being a student as well. He loved getting to learn both in the classroom and on the track. Graduating with a Bachelors of Science in Engineering, Ensz puts a large emphasis on the importance of obtaining an education while being an athlete.
While he may have learned a lot about math and science in class, he learned something else that could only be taught through the lessons of being a full-time athlete as well.
“Sports taught me that you are going to get knocked down, probably a lot more times than you’re going to be standing up,” Ensz said. “So you pick yourself up and you motivate yourself. Motivation has to come from within. Only you can motivate yourself to achieve the goals that you want to achieve.”
Being an athlete at KU was a special experience for Ensz. The memories and love that the runner has for this school are evident as he is now a member of the K Club and gives any and everything he can to return what the University of Kansas had given him in his years as a student-athlete.
Once a Jayhawk, always a Jayhawk.
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