Saturday Spotlight- Ray Downes

Name: Ray Downes
Age: 46
Hometown: Limerick, Ireland
Current Town: Huntington
Previous Towns: Prague Czech Republic, Newbury UK, Singapore, Utrecht Holland
Marital Status: Married to Janet (19 years)
Occupation: Tech Company Executive – CEO at KEMP Technologies (HQ NYC, founded on Long Island)

I was not looking forward to the conversation I needed to have with my wife Janet. After all it had only been a year since I took up a role working in my hometown of Limerick which had me based on Irish soil for the first time in over 14 years.
We both knew the script. “Janet can we sit down, there is something I want to talk to you about?”

She immediately knew this was not a good sign. In truth I only ever asked that question when I wanted to discuss something….well, let’s just say disruptive. The last time was 2002 when I pursued an opportunity to establish a business in Eastern Europe. I promised it was a 3-year project and I would be out of Prague by 2005. OK, I admit I underestimated that assignment by a mere 5 years! I convinced myself it would be different this time. “Honestly Jan, this is a great opportunity, I have been offered a job in New York running an up and coming tech company with loads of potential on a 3-year contract. It’s definitely only 3 years and this time and I am only taking up the role if you agree to come with me. At least come over to Long Island and have a look, see what you think?”
She did. We liked what we saw and I signed on the dotted line. Those 3 years passed amazingly quickly. And so did the next 3. Heading into our 7th year now we don’t really discuss going back anymore. The company has done well, grew 5x in employees/revenues like I thought it might. As important is how well the personal side of the move worked out for the both of us. We are happy here and very proud to be Long Islanders since 2011. Settled in Huntington, I even learned to enjoy the daily LIRR commute to Times Sq. where I work out of. I observe that Long Islanders work hard, long hours but also find time for family and enjoying life and its really great to be among you all as a permanent resident.

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that my entire 25-year career has been working with American Tech companies. Particularly since I never wanted to work in Tech in the first place! Incredible opportunities and adventures in that quarter century. I completed secondary school (high school to you) in the late 1980’s. The Irish economy was still in major financial recession at that time but the bright light at the end of the dark tunnel was that low costs, common language and a good education system was attracting inward investment from many US Tech companies. Ireland became their gateways to European markets. Limerick had the only dedicated technology University back them so many of those companies ended up around my city. In 1988 the path to avoid forced economic migration was to become an engineer and get a job with one of those US multinationals. That’s what I did. Any notions of becoming a school teacher went out the window. No jobs for teachers back then. Then again I would never have met my wife if it wasn’t for the career choice which was kind of “forced” on me. In 1995 Janet and I ended up working on the same manufacturing floor for a long departed tech company. We got married in 1998 and amazingly she still puts up with me today.

I have always been obsessed with live music and sports. No matter where you go in the world or what languages you speak or you don’t speak, you can always connect with people through music and sport. Most of the memories I retain from places I have lived, worked or visited involve music and sports. Probably the love of music from my mother, definitely the sport bug from my father. Janet and I go to dozens of gigs and sports events per year. Rugby is my main sporting passion with a keen interest in dozens more. Myself and my dad would watch any live sport and the pair of us dominated the one TV we had at home when I was growing up. My mother and two sisters were always up in arms over control of the remote control. Since moving this side of the Atlantic I attend and watch lots of college football, baseball, tennis, Ice hockey, horse racing. Music gigs at MSG, Barclays, Paramount, Coliseum, Jones Beach, terminal 5, Bowery – spoiled for choice. Kid in a candy store.

My first introduction to running training came through the niche sport of Orienteering – which is running around a forest course with a map and compass in as short a time as possible. I think it’s much more popular in Europe than the States. I took it up in my mid-teens appropriately via introduction from my then high school geography teacher. He thought me the technical side of the sport and I competed in local and regional competitions every other weekend. I got to a decent standard but to get to the next level I needed to work harder on my fitness and not just rely on map reading skills. Competitive at local level, I was found out when it came to national competitions because of my fitness. Get fitter and results would improve. I started running a few days a week and started winning at the higher levels. As I got fitter I got to really enjoy the running aspect. It became something I did to get me through exams, to help me cope with stress, to lose weight, to structure my thoughts, to feel alive. Funny thing is I never considered testing myself in a proper running race. In fact, my first time ever entering a race of any kind was the 1989 Dublin City Marathon. A story for another day.

Then one day my participation in sport, any sport, came to a rather abrupt stop. It was during a soccer match in 1995 – I wasn’t great at soccer and it showed when I came out the worst for attempting a tackle half-heartedly. In fact, my right lower leg shattered in 6 places. Yeah – not a great advert for my defensive technique. I will never forget the ambulance ride and every single bump and pothole along the 15-mile journey to the ER. Two weeks in hospital was followed by 26 more in a full cast from hip to ankle which in turn was followed by 30 more of rehab and crutches. The doctors “hoped” I might be able to walk pain free. They were “sure” at 25 years old my sporting days were behind me and I could forget about ever running again. Wow… It was hard to take in.
In hindsight I took them at their word, thankful that I had no pain walking and I didn’t attempt to run. Not one stride. The occasional bit of swimming and gym work. A full decade of my life would pass before I build up some courage to try running again. I built up my confidence and some endurance on a treadmill at a gym. I eventually felt I could venture outdoors onto the pavements and parks of Prague where I was working at the time. I found some training friends which led to signing up for a couple of small local races and eventually a half. Grateful for a second chance I never thought possible I decided to train for the 2006 Prague Marathon. That race meant loads to me as does every day I am able to lace up a pair of runners. Prague, my Marathon #2 was 17 years after my first and with a right leg that these days is half an inch shorter than my left leg!

Running remains a key part of my routine, a key part of my life at this stage. I identify as a runner and love to set goals and targets for myself. I’m preparing right now for to my own personal #Decima – my 10th lifetime Marathon which will be at next month’s Marine Corps Marathon. 2017 will be the year I surpass 2000 running miles in a calendar year. Just to keep reminding myself that every mile of every run has some purpose.

We are so lucky as runners on Long Island with beautiful roads, parks, boardwalks, hills, trails and fantastic races. The climate is ideal. Even the winters are better than the 300 days of rain Ireland gets annually. The running community we have here is second to none. Supportive at all skill levels, abilities, disabilities. The people I meet through GLIRC events, Selden Hills are the best community of runners, of people, I have encountered anywhere. It’s over a year since I first went out to Selden one Sunday to see what all the fuss was about. I saw it straight away and I am so glad I did.

Every group needs enthusiastic members and fearless leadership and inLou LaFleur we have an excellent leader. Calm, understated and trusting are some of the leadership qualities I most associate with and Lou displays all of them – I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity this week. I have got to know lots of you and it will be great to get to know many more in the months and years ahead. I look forward to your comments and reactions this week. Hope you enjoy the rest of my week.

See you on the hills.

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