Today Steve Prefontaine would have turned 63 years old if not for the one-car accident that claimed his life in Eugene Oregon on May 30, 1975. He was just 24 years old at the time of his death and held every single American Middle Distance record from 2,000 meters to 10,000.
Seven distances, seven American records.
I’ve written a lot about Pre since I started blogging. Usually on his birthday and the anniversary of his death. Other times before or after an “A” race, sometimes after a grueling workout or just a day where the weather or another outside stressor made me reach deep to either get out the door or push through tough circumstances.
My cousin Joe and Pre were basically the same age. One passing away on a dark road late at night more than 30 years ago. The other just this past week. I have often wondered just what Pre would have become had he not died on the way home from a post-race party that night in Eugene. He of course won the three-mile earlier that day at Hayward Field. A track where Pre was essentially unbeatable.
Would he have gone to Montreal in 1976 and won the 5000? Given the disappointment in Munich where Pre finished 4th in one of the most talented 5000 meter fields ever assembled at the age of 22. Yes, I believe that he would have or in Prefontaine fashion, would have just about died trying. That was the way he ran – he as his college roommate Pat Tyson once said, “People in the 70’s had drugs, alcohol or whatever. Pre was addicted to winning. At everything.”
38 years have gone by and people are still talking about Pre. I still see his image on race shirts from Austin to Boston every year. To have that kind of impact between your High School years and age 25, that is pretty remarkable. Pre was a remarkable runner.
By now he would most likely be a powerful voice in American Track and Field. He as an early activist for athletes rights, and was very – sometimes to a fault – outspoken against the governing bodies of the day. He was also a kid. How tactful were you at 21, 22 years old when it came to something you were passionate about? That was everything you thought about 24 hours a day?
I give Pre a pass on that one.
He would be a father and by now more than likely a grandfather. But in my mind’s eye I still see him chiseled and fit, racing around a track with nobody remotely close to him – charging down the home stretch at Hayward field, hair on fire, simply put …. crushing it.
So today on Pre’s birthday I pause to say thank you. Thank you for showing athletes that winning is one thing, but it really is about the effort you put forth, pushing your talents and abilities to their limits, getting as close as possible to your absolute best. THAT is winning, whether you finish first, second, fourth or last. It is what makes runners of all talent levels drawn to Pre.
He didn’t win races because of God given talent alone. Obviously Pre had the genetics for the sport. But he was also a small, short-striding runner with a left leg that was shorter than the right. Pre out-worked, out-trained, out-smarted and out-hearted his competition. Pure and simple he just put forth the maximum effort possible to make the most of his talents and abilities.
That is something that I have tried to remember whenever things have gotten tough either on the trail, on the hill or on the road race course.
I may never “Win” another event. It has only happened once since I started this journey 7 years ago. And as I get older and as the races I choose to compete in get larger and more difficult, the chance shrinks to virtually zero. But the thought of not trying my best never enters my mind.
The day that happens is the day I will have run my last race. Unable to run this morning due to my still recovering Achilles strain I hopped on the bike trainer and pedaled as hard as I could for 63 minutes. One for every year since Pre was born. Seemed like the right thing to do.