Steve Prefontaine may have been seen as 'just another guy' to the outside world but to the running community, he was more than that. The Oregon native arguably was one of the first pioneers that launched the trend of America falling in love with the sport. Prefontaine didn't just meet his goals, he crushed them. He raised the bar among his colleagues and advocated for a brand that turned into a global icon. Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman may have started Nike but Prefontaine's reputation is what took the company over the top.
During his last couple of years at Marshfield High School, it was obvious that Prefontaine had greatness within him. That led to his recruitment from Bill Bowerman himself who convinced Prefontaine to attend the University of Oregon. The rest was history - during his career, Prefontaine won seven NCAA titles, set nine collegiate track records while also breaking his own or other American records 14 different times. As an Oregon duck, Prefontaine never lost a distance race longer than a mile.
I always admired Prefontaine for his mental and physical toughness. When Prefontaine won his first three-mile track title he raced with 12 stitches in his foot from a diving board accident a few days prior. Some of my favorite sports quotes are from Prefontaine. I really like, "to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift" and "a lot of people run a race to see who is the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more."
Prefontaine's life fell short when he died from a tragic car crash on the way home from a house party after finishing in first place for an NCAA Prep meet race earlier in the day. The Eugene Police Department determined that Prefontaine's blood alcohol content was below the legal limit. While driving on an extended right curve his 1973 MGB convertible crossed the center lane, jumped the curve and impacted a rock wall which resulted in the car flipping over with Prefontaine pinned beneath the wreckage. He was only 24 years old.
A memorial was made at the base of the roadside boulder where Prefontaine died of his injuries. Runners from all over the world travel to the site to bring their race numbers, medals, and other various running memorabilia to honor Prefontaine's memory. It's always been a goal of mine to travel and visit Oregon to pay my respects to the legend. I think every runner carries a piece of Prefontaine's legacy each time they hit the open road. I wish I got the chance to meet him. I'm thankful for what Prefontaine contributed to the sport.
His legacy will live on forever because legends never die.