Steve Prefontaine was once the hope of America in the middle and long-distance running events in the 1972 Olympic Games. He once held the American record in seven distance track events from the 2,000 meters to the 10,000 meters.
Along with Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers, he is credited for inspiring the running boom in the 1970s. Prefontaine attended the University of Oregon and trained under Bill Bowerman. Bowerman founded Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, which would later become Nike.) Affectionately known as “Pre,” he won the NCAA Men’s Cross Country Championship three out of his four years at Oregon. In 1972, he sat out of the race to train for the Munich Olympics.
Considered one of the best middle and long distance runners of our time, and certainly one of the most popular, Prefontaine was both quotable and inspirational. When my youngest son was in high school he too was a promising middle distance runner. Adorned on the walls in his room was a poster of the handsome Prefontaine winning yet another race. The poster and a T-shirt my son wore showcased this quote from this Olympic athlete:
“To give anything less than your best,
is to sacrifice the gift.”
In one short sentence, this quote captured the essence of his work ethic, his commitment to excellence, and his understanding of the cost of complacency. By this quote alone, he inspired thousands of runners and at least one writer, me.
This quote can easily be a mantra for writers. It’s a challenge to do our best work. To bring all of ourselves to every effort. A call to cultivate our gift of writing. A promise to never give anything less than our very best. And a reminder to never sacrifice the gift.
Steve Prefontaine died in a car accident on May 30, 1975 at age 24. He won 120 of the 153 races he ran (78 percent). He never lost a collegiate (NCAA) race at the University of Oregon.
Writing is a lot like long distance running. We have to go the distance before we reap any real rewards. The path to publication is clearly a marathon, not a sprint. And while it may take some of us longer to achieve the victory of publication, it’s how we run this race that matters. Unlike literal running, as you pursue publication, you don’t have to finish first to win. You just have to finish well.
Might we all finish our work well—and thereby, never sacrifice the gift.
The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.
Blog entries are posted on Thursday.
You may contact me at: email@example.com.
- Chasing Prefontaine: The run for a record (edition.cnn.com)
- Tim Layden: Memory of Prefontaine prevalent at trials as Rupp breaks 5,000 record (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- Outrunning Prefontaine 40 Years Later (blogs.wsj.com)
- 40 Years Later, Prefontaine’s Last Big Record Is Busted (newser.com)
- Remembering Steve Prefontaine (ccooper.typepad.com)