Original Prefontaine Remembrance Article
Who is Steve Prefontaine to me? He is a hero, a role model, and equal parts living person and myth. And yes, Pre is alive and well. I never met Steve, but he happens to be my first cousin, twice removed. Knowing that I share some of his genes has instilled in me the idea that there are no confines to what I can achieve. My reach will never exceed my grasp. Not necessarily. Although I used to think that the concept of limitless possibility could be applied to anything, I now know that boundless potential is singularly dependent upon passion. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, then your progress is limited, and therefore it is not worth continuing with. Pick something you love and do it until it kills you. So, Steve taught me that passion begets a perpetuity of achievement. Pre is a transcendent idea, the personification of the American Dream; the impact he has had and continues to have on runners and non-runners alike is infinite and exponential. Everyone has heard about Pre the runner, but have yet to truly understand Steve the person. I intend to shed a sliver of light on who that person was, and what he means to me, the city of San Francisco, and the world.
Steve’s sister, Linda, is working on a novel that covers everything the books and movies did not. She will provide an unprecedented snapshot into Steve’s soul. I will not overlap with that novel, but I intend to provide some brief glimpses into that wonderful, endless soul. My grandmother passed away last year, and at her memorial service, there were scrapbooks and knick knacks she had collected about Steve over the years. I found postcards that he consistently sent to both his immediate family and secondary family like my mother and my uncle while he was away for races. These postcards showed a loving, caring, and emotionally intellectual man who constantly put his loved ones before anything else.
Steve acknowledged all of the people that had helped him get to where he was, and never took his own family for granted. It is astounding that somebody who lived their life a mile every 3:54.6 minutes could make time for every person that was dear to him. In the family pictures, I saw a Steve that loved animals and children. I saw a man that had 25 hours in his day; the punishing pace of his life did not stop him from acknowledging and appreciating the small wonderments of everyday life. I saw a smile that could ignite the Olympic Torch.
The Prefontaine influence spans far and wide. The Bay Area is especially not immune to his immortal spell. My mother, who grew up with Steve, lives in the Marina of San Francisco with my father, who, coincidentally (or not) went to the University of Oregon with Steve, and served him drinks as a bartender before he even met my mother. Steve set his first American record during the US vs. USSR All Stars meet at the University of California Berkeley in 1971, when he ran the 5,000 meter race in 13 minutes, 30.4 seconds. The running program/athletic department at UC Berkeley is no stranger to accomplishment, having won 36 individual, 3 relay, and 1 team national title since 1872.
Another example of Pre’s indelible legacy is engrained in the annual Nike run in San Francisco. People aspiring to be amateur runners, who train relentlessly in pursuit of that goal, participate in this race. Steve single-handedly fought for amateur athletes’ rights in the 1970s, rebelled against a disingenuous institution, and won. On an even greater level, there would not even be a Nike without Steve Prefontaine. He was the first person to wear Nike, and help promote it from its humble beginnings. Pre’s track coach, Bill Bowman, constructed the first pair of Nike shoes with a waffle iron. Every race and event that Nike orchestrates has Steve’s spirit behind it. Every person, runner or not, has Pre’s blood coursing through their veins, not just those in my family. Everybody has that drive within them, that burning yearning for something greater.
The extent to which the legend of Pre has affected subsequent generations is immeasurable. He is all of us. The underdog. The rebel. The fighter. The lover. The caretaker. The protector. The human being. He is every immigrant that risked their lives and their livelihoods to get to the Port of San Francisco. He is every oppressed person struggling to ensure safety for their families. He is every person struggling to find their place in this world. I could list one of the many household Steve Prefontaine quotes that have become almost cliche’ when talking about the man. Instead, I will ask you what his sister Linda has asked me during one of our heart-to-heart conversations. What are you passionate about? What is your dream? What are you doing to accomplish that dream? We are all dreamers, but not all of us realize that our dreams are tangible; they are merely a means to a new beginning that only seem out of reach because of the daunting nature of taking the steps to get there. The worst thing one can do is to never take that first leap.