A Change of Pace

By Caroline Pennacchio

Sean Ryan is and has been many things: a Briarcliff Alum, an IBM Executive, a parent, and a coach. Like many things in life, the distinctions and shift from one role to another has meant change. After his time at Briarcliff (a member of the Class of ‘69), the National Honor Society and the varsity XC and track teams, the multi-school record holder moved into the college scene – both academically and athletically.

The oldest of six children, he selected Lehigh as his college of choice because it offered the “best total package.” That which included its strong engineering program, the full scholarship he was awarded and the opportunity he had there to run as a member of the varsity team. Coincidentally, the XC coach at Lehigh had been the XC coach at neighboring Ossining High School until he went to Lehigh in 1968. Because schools used to train at Rider Park and Briarcliff High School didn’t have a track, the Briarcliff team occasionally went to the Ossining track and ran with the Ossining runners.

Despite his original intention of becoming a mechanical engineer, he became a mathematics major during his senior year of college and decided to become an actuary. After a year, he decided that the actuarial route wasn’t for him.

He decided to return to the engineering route but became a computer engineer instead of a mechanical engineer. His goal of having a job that involved computer use, which he discovered during his year of training to be an actuary, prompted him to look for a job at companies in the computer industry, he selected IBM and was then selected by IBM.

Starting out as an engineer trained by IBM, Ryan held a variety of other jobs for 12 years, including his position in managing a laboratory in Raleigh, NC that had affiliated laboratories in Japan and developed products for companies’ retail point of sale systems. Just a few decades earlier, this very laboratory had invented the barcode.

He then moved up into the executive ranks and started running businesses within IBM (business with retailers) through one of the few integrated business units in IBM for six to seven years. When IBM began to form IBM Global Services, Ryan joined the precursor to this now prominent institution in the early 1990s as one of its first members, staying there for the last 12 years of career until his retirement in 2004. He had helped IBM build global services: the largest comp services system in world, running a large part of it by the end of his career.

Upon his retirement at 53, he decided he wasn’t done working; he was going to do something different. When he first retired, he spent most of his time with his children, participating in activities involving his daughter’s theater and swimming events and his son’s running events. When he would volunteer at Byram Hills High School helping to officiate meets alongside his son’s coach (who was just a year older than he), Coach Ryan began to think about becoming a coach and decided that the only place he wanted to do it would be at his alma mater.

In 2008, he approached Coach D and asked to volunteer to build up the XC and track programs, and he has been coaching at Briarcliff ever since. He has impacted the lives of at least 500 student athletes, teaching them to embrace the life lessons he thinks are most important: hard work can lead to results, the importance of tenacity, the value of camaraderie, and the importance of working as a team. For Coach Ryan, although the technical courses he took in college were important, the life lessons he learned served him better in his career.

For him, the most meaningful experience has been changing the lives of student athlete and helping them to foster a passion they will take with them beyond graduation. He’d like to be remembered as someone who taught life lessons.

“If you work hard, you can accomplish anything. Through the combination of running and my business career, I have learned that a single individual can change the world in some way. If you find your passion, work hard, focus and are tenacious, you can make anything happen,” says Coach Ryan.

And he has definitely achieved this goal. Students have achieved many personal records both athletically and academically (the XC and track and field teams often receive the Scholar-Athlete Designation from NYSPHSAA), he has created a substantially larger program than existed eight years, ago, and there are more students competing in college as well as embracing the sport for fitness.

Currently in his eighth year, Coach Ryan has unfortunately made the decision to make this winter season his last. However, this ending will signal another change in his life, and the beginning of another new career – with the Westchester Library System. Coach Ryan wants to accomplish the same things with libraries as he has with XC and track. When he retired from his official job there were two things he believed changed him: running (started at BHS) and his love of reading and learning (which started with his mom taking him to the library).

For him, libraries are dying, and it would be a tragedy if this were to occur. “Libraries play a critical role in learning and education and culture,” according to Coach Ryan. He plans to devote a significant amount of his time, as evident through his agreement with his town library and the Westchester Library Systems, to become a member of their Boards for the next five years.  His goals are “to try to prove that libraries can grow dramatically and help all of us to grow throughout our lives, and to spend more time with family.”

But for the next several years, we will still continue to see him around the track as an avid fan of Briarcliff running and a supporter of his family. He is sure to “Finish Strong.”

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