Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pops Lives...Pre Lives...In Me

Growing up, I had a knack for running. I was blessed with the genes that gave me the ability to run well. As a child, roller hockey was very popular in my neighborhood, but there was only one problem with that...I couldn't skate. And, I was scared to learn. The prospect of crashing was not appealing to me. So, when my older brother and his friends took to the streets of our cul-de-sac on their roller blades for a game of hockey, I elected to join the game using my two sturdy feet to carry me around the "rink".

My running began there, and I excelled. In school, I became one of the faster students in PE class. And, I began to enjoy it. I was small, or as my dad would say "aerodynamic". It gave me an advantage for some reason. I wasn't the quickest in the sprints, but when the distance reached over 600 yards, I could keep up or beat most. This skill came in handy in many of the sports I played. I participated in many sports including basketball, baseball, and soccer. And, the talent to run helped me with each sport.

As I approached high school, a decision had to be made. Would I continue to play soccer? Would I attempt to play football with my friends? Or would I take another route? My dad suggested that I try my hand at Cross Country. Or should I say my feet? I had a buddy that was planning to run, so I figured I would join him and follow in my father's footsteps. See, my dad was a very successful runner in high school and running was and still is one of his true passions. I thought that this was a passion that my dad and I could share. You see, my brother and my dad shared baseball. I played a little baseball, but I never really enjoyed it. I excelled at in younger days, but as I got older, it wasn't my cup of tea. I viewed running as something we could share, and it turned out better than I could imagine.

As a Freshman at Boulder City High School in 1998, I joined the Cross Country team. Feelings of inadequacy and doubt filled me as I took for my first run with the guys. They were much bigger and fast than me. The pride that I felt in junior high dissipated with each step as I fell further and further behind. Suddenly, I felt like running wasn't for me. I had always excelled, and failure did not sit well with me. In my first race, as a lowly Freshman, I fell twice. While trying to step up on a curb towards the end of the race, my foot clipped the edge and my body was sent sprawling to the ground. I was beat...physically and mentally. As I tried to rise, I fell again. This time...I was beat emotionally. Embarrassment set in. Insult was added to injury. Knees bleeding, hands scrapped, and tears ready to fill my eyes, I heard a loving voice cheering my name. I looked up through tear filled eyes to see my dad urging me to finish. At that moment, a rush of adrenaline filled my tired legs. Bruised, battered, but not beaten, I arose and slowly finished my first Cross Country race. I traversed the 2.2 mile course in just under 15 or 16 minutes. But, at that point, my time didn't matter. The proud look on my father's face erased the disappointment, embarrassment, and pain I felt. In that moment, I felt I made my father proud.

And, with that feeling of accomplishment, I knew I was doing something that we could both love. I would get better. I would get stronger. I would become the best runner I could be...eventually. I struggled my entire Freshman year. I ended up lettering on Varsity, but I didn't achieve the status I wanted. I wasn't able to go on the annual Mt. Sac trip, a privilege for the Top 7 Varsity runners. I wasn't invited to run in the Zone or State Championships. And, to be honest, I was crushed.

As my Freshman year came to an end, I resolved to be a better runner. My Sophomore year was a success. I bounced around between the 4th and 6th spot on the Varsity team. I was having the time of my life with my new passion as I hung out with my buddies. We dominated the competition winning race after race. We won almost every race we competed in my Sophomore, losing only to Kingman High (5A in AZ) at their invitational and Green Valley High (4A in LV) at a weekly tri-meet. This time, I attended the coveted Mt. Sac Invitational, which we won. We followed it up with a "Perfect 15" at the Zone Championships where I finished 5th. And, I participated in the Nevada State Cross Country Championship Meet where the Eagles dominated. We placed four runners in the top six and six runners in the top 14. I finished in 13th place closing the deal on a state title. What a moment! What a celebration! Good times with great friends. Still, I wasn't quite happy with my progression. I felt like I should be better, and I set out after my Sophomore year to improve.

Improvement takes time. Improvement takes dedication. Improvement takes passion. Improvement, as we all know, is not easy. It must be worked out. It must be cultivated. During the summer between my Sophomore and Junior years, I learned about the GREATEST RUNNER in AMERICAN HISTORY. Steve Prefontaine came back to the forefront of the running world in 1997 with the release of the movie "Prefontaine". Soon after, in 1998, the release of "Without Limits" continued to build up Pre's lasting legacy. The summer of 2000 changed running for me forever.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved Michael Jordan. Everyone knows that. I think Michael Jordan is the greatest athlete of all-time. But, he is not my favorite athlete. Despite all the memorabilia, the posters, the fanfare, and the knowledge of him I possess, he is not my favorite athlete. That title belongs to Steve Roland Prefontaine. Pre inspired me!

After watching "Prefontaine" and "Without Limits", I longed to be like Pre. I wanted to run with 1/1000th of the passion he did. At least once, I wanted to have the drive he possessed. The drive, the need, the one that ate at him everyday to be the best. Pre made me want to be better.

"Pre wasn't a runner, he was a rebel that just so happened to run." And, this rebel inspired millions. Nike didn't start with Michael Jordan. Nike, the Greek Goddess of Victory, started on the feet of Steve Prefontaine. The outspoken, defiant, and charismatic Pre changed the running landscape. He became a sensation. He made people care about running. He inspired millions to lace them up every morning and just run.

Pre dominated the college running scene for the University of Oregon and the infamous Bill Bowerman starting in 1970. And, in 1972, he took the United States by storm in the U.S. Trials. Pre, at the age of 21, was tasked with racing veteran George Young.

Pre looked at running a race as a work of art. And, he would do whatever it took to make that work of art as beautiful as possible. When he raced George Young at the Olympic Trials, Pre ran his masterpiece. Gradually, he increased the pace to an incredible one. Pre ran negative splits of 64.7, 65.1, 63.4, 61.5, 58.7 before finishing and demolishing his own American record with a time of 13:22.8. The young man was quickly becoming a legend.

At the age of 21, Prefontaine traveled to Munich for the tragic 1972 Olympics. After the murdering of Israeli athletes by terrorists that stormed the Olympic compound, the feeling of the games was tarnished. Still, the 5,000 meter race took place. Pre suffered a slow pace early on, and began to push with a mile left. Pre was never content with not giving everything in the tank. After all, he always said "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift". Pre loved races that involved "pure guts". It was now or never for him with four laps to go. "The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die." With that in mind, Pre took off attempting a four lap from the finish drive to break the best runners in the world. The 21 year old was inexperienced compared to the international field, but he was going to make a race of it. And, that he did! He ran his final mile in 4:04.

Pre could have settled for second. He could have settled for third. But, that wasn't Pre. Pre wanted to win. And, in the end, he finished fourth because he gave EVERYTHING he had in an attempt to win the race. Many runners would have gladly settled for a silver medal, but Pre wasn't just any runner. He had gold on his mind, and he would kill himself to get it. With nothing left in the tank, Pre finished his most gutsy and inspiring race in fourth place.

Steve Bence wrote about the finish saying "He didn't bring home a medal, but he helped create in that 5000 final one of the greatest, most wildly exciting distance races in history - forcing it through that incredible, four-minute, final mile, taking the lead with two laps to go, perhaps knowing already that he didn't have the late speed or the experience to hold all of 'em off. Viren, then Gamoudi, then Stewart, all got him, faster perhaps, wiser surely at the time. But none any guttier. There was no grim satisfaction that the cocky little braggart had gotten his. He'd made the race, put himself on the line, never flagged. Given it everything. He always did."

Pre's crushing loss at Munich brought him to his knees, but he rose up again. In 4 years, he believed he would meet Viren in Montreal, where he would break the world record and clutch a precious gold medal. After all, in '72, his trial's time would have decimated the Munich field. Pre began his push for '76 and gold, but he would never reach the track of Montreal. On May 30, 1975, Steve Roland Prefontaine was in a car accident that took his precious, inspiring, and amazing life. His car flipped, trapping him underneath where the weight crushed his chest. Pre died at the age of 24years old. America lost a young hero but gained a legend.

Pre taught all of us. He always gave it everything he had. He refused to run any other way. "How he won mattered to him more" than anything. Pre ran to "test the limits of the human heart. And that he did, nobody did it more often, nobody did it better."

Pre is memorialized on the road that took his life. Pre's Rock is visited by thousands and thousands of runners every year who have been inspired by his words, his life, and his lasting legacy. And, one day, I will visit his rock and leave the first medal from my Junior year with Steve Prefontaine as he inspired me to be the best that I could be.

With Pre's inspiration under my belt, I had a great Junior year that was capped with a 2nd place finish at the Zone Championships and a 6th place at the State Championships. It also ended with back-to-back Mt. Sac, Zone, and State titles.

Determined to be more dominant my Senior year, I trained hard. And, by the time the season came, I was ready. I set personal records week after week including a 10:07 2.1 mile finish, a 16:08 3.1 mile finish, and winning race after race. I set a PR at Mt. Sac running my first mile of a 5K in sub 5:00 and finishing the race in just over 16:00. I won the Zone Championships by over a minute with the lingerings of bronchitis. Our team also took home our 3rd straight Mt. Sac title and our fourth straight Zone Championship. With a chance at the coveted 3-peat of State Titles, we arrived in Reno focused and ready to go. With my lungs still recovering from bronchitis, I challenged the eventual State Champion, Jose Ramirez, for the first two miles before he pulled away. After running the first two miles in Steve Prefontaine front, flat out until I had nothing left, I was spent. I could have settled for second or third, but like Pre, I had run to win.

My legs were like logs. With 800 meters to go, I was passed by two competitors and I finished in fourth place. As I crossed the finish line, tears filled my years. As I walked out of the chute for the final time as a Boulder City Eagle, my emotions overcame me. Tears streaming down my face, I found a spot for a moment of solitude. Thanking my Lord and Savior for my abilities while wishing I had one more crack at it. As I cried, my father put his hand on my shoulder and took a knee next to me. In that moment, I could feel his love for me more than ever before. He smiled and told me how proud of me he was and all I had accomplished. An embrace and a pat on the back placed an exclamation point on a moment I will never forget.

In those moments, as I ran, I knew I made my dad proud. And, I feel so blessed to have parents who attended every race, along with grandparents who followed. I vividly remember my dad running from section of the course to section of the course yelling "form", "arms", "go Jammmer", and in one instance telling me "way to kick ass, I'm proud of you". Running is bond that brought us closer together. It was a bond we shared and it was great.

In the years after high school, I suffered two devasting knee injuries. Blowing out both knees (at separate times) on the basketball court caused some series issues. The left knee was surgically repaired in 2007 in order to fix a completely torn ACL and MCL as well as a partially torn meniscus. Later in 2011, surgery occurred on my right knee to fix a completely severed ACL and MCL as well as a half torn meniscus.

After two knee surgeries, it is time to get back on the road again. When it comes to running, I need to get my smile back.

And, I cannot wait to do it as I train for Ragnar Las Vegas 2013. I cannot wait to be on the road with my pops again and to see him smile no matter how slow I am. Because little does he know, he is my hero. Just like Pre, he inspires me on a daily basis. I hope to be able to walk at 52 years old, let alone compete in race after race, especially Ragnar.

Pops, you make me proud. And, I want to thank you for inspiring me to run again just like you encouraged me to begin this journey over 14 years ago. I love you Pops!

My Pops encouraged me to start running over 14 years ago. Pre inspired me to give it my all over 13 years ago. It is amazing how someone who died 23 years before you began your journey can inspire you for the better. Time to lace 'em up and hit the road again.

Pops, you live in me. Pre Lives...In Me. And, one day, I HOPE that all of us live in my boys!

People ask why I run.
I say "If you have to ask, you will never understand".
It is something only those select few know.
Those who put themselves through pain, but deep down know how good it feels.

It is time to get the feeling back, so one day I can share it with my boys just like my dad did me!

What running has given me, I can never give back. It has provided me with a bridge to grow closer with my father. It has provided us with an outlet. It facilitated hundreds of special moments that I will never forget. It helped me smile. And, while I can never pay it back...what I can do is share it with my boys like my father did me.

"The best day of running is not the day you start yourself, but the day you get someone else to join." - Marc Parent

1 comment:

  1. Dear Boys,

    This posts brings back great memories for me. I remember these events like they were yesterday. I am very proud of your daddy for so many things. He is a wonderful son and he will be a wonderful father.

    I look forward to the day when I can see all my grandkids participate in different activities. Your daddy's running was a big part of our lives. As he told you, Your Papi loves running and your dad inherited that same love of running. I remember when your dad asked for the movie, Without Limits for Christmas. (VHS movie). I looked all over to find it and when I did we all had to watch it. Yes.... I have seen the movie too. (I did do a 5K with your Papi so I guess I am allowed).

    You boys have a great heritage of men to follow, your daddy, Papi, Grandpa, Uncles and cousins. They will be great examples of important things in your life. They will show you how to grow to be worthy, loving, honest men. Follow their examples, you will never go wrong if you do.

    I love you,