The Coos Bay Cowboy
By: James McLean
Hard to be a runner and not know about Steve Prefontaine. Countless books, films, articles, and mustaches have been made to honor the man. Like Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, Pre's life being cut short gave his time on earth more gravity and placed the ceiling of where he could have gone into the stars.
In the running world, it's rare to have personalities transcend beyond the confines of track locker rooms or message boards. There's a reason why runners rarely grace the cover of major magazines. Running is a personal sport. Many of the miles written in logs and tracked in Strava are done alone. When the glory happens in such a siloed and internalized way, the world often does not care or listen.
But Pre struck a different chord. His body of work and his way of carrying himself translated more to a cowboy than the common runner. He was a self-involved alpha, shot from the hip, had a laundry list of quotable one-liners that Hollywood hacks could have dropped into any Spaghetti Western.
Through his braggadocios attitude, his personal demands translated to building the brand of running and inadvertently advocating for thousands of others. Many of his battles still linger today (amateur vs. professional status, the compensation of athletes) but it is remarkable to realize how much of an impact he had and has at such a young age.
In January, Steve would have turned 70, he would have most certainly still been challenging folks in Master’s races until his bones and ego could no longer take it. On the anniversary of his passing (May 30th), it's important to remember the man he was and what he aimed to do for the running community.
Steve showed the world the level of toughness so many runners had shown before (Kathrine Switzer, Wilma Rudolph, Jesse Owens) but was able to capture the attention of the world in an era where running became mainstream.
As we remember Pre, it's important to show respect by fighting for what he believed in, push the way he pushed, and keep giving voice to a sport that celebrates the most raw athleticism out there. He is the rugged personification of what we all try and seek in a race, someone who pours it all out on the track, and leaves nothing in the tank. Like an anti - hero at the end of a Western shoot out, he'll always be the wild outlaw, the runner with an attitude, the Coos Bay Cowboy. "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.