Meeting Ray Prefontaine, the father of Pre
UPDATE: Recently we went back to the home of the Prefontaine's. To return this photo to those who inspired us 16 years ago. After spending the day catching up with the amazing Elfriede Prefontaine, she left us with some parting words of wisdom. She said, "Always remember the most important thing you can do is to be respectful and kind to others."
"After hours of digging through box after box, we came across an old black chest with a lock. I took a hammer and smashed the lock open. Inside amongst the precious memories of David's life was a folder containing hundreds of love letters between David and his wife Melanie. He reached into the folder and pulled out this little bell, looked at me and said, "Bell lap" and rang the bell three times! Then reached in to the folder, I am not kidding, and pulled out the picture of him and I standing in the living room of Ray Prefontaine holding the Olympic Uniform." ~ Aron Taylor
"To get Faster, you have to run faster" ~ Ray Prefontaine
His words chimed vividly through our ears. "You will BE great," He was Ray Prefontaine, the father of the greatest distance running sensation in American history. Standing in the living room Ray exclaims, "Boys, I have something to show you. Wait right here, this just came in the mail." To our surprise Ray pulled out a package, he searched for scissors to open the small box, held within was the 1972 Olympic Uniform for Steve Prefontaine. He explained the uniform was to be placed into a museum but he felt it appropriate to share with my brother and I. He pulled the uniform out and with a tear in his eye asked, "Would you like a picture?...I hope my wife gets home soon, she is at the store."
THIS STORY, is about two kids not knowing what to do to get away from a dysfunctional home, so they ran not knowing why or for what. They ran until they got to Pre's house. From there they ran to make an impact, to show all those that weren't great that they could be great if they just believed in themselves. This sport is not for the biggest, strongest, or most talented; it is for the most committed, hardest working little guy who at times is the only one believing that what shouldn't happen will happen.
The summer of 1995 David and I began the trip to the USA Track and Field Region XIII Track & Field Championships in Seattle, Washington. The first race we would see would be the 5000 meters. As the race progressed it would seem David was on pace for something remarkable. To our surprise and many of the athletes he defeated David would claim victory, Region XIII Champion!!!
That night we celebrated roasting marshmallows at a local KOA Camp Ground and joined in the happiness of David's surprise victory. David looked me in the eye and said, "Aron, you need to qualify for nationals." The next day feeling the energy that something special was occurring we assembled for the start of the 2000 Meter Steeplechase. Prior to the race David had never broken 7-minutes and I had never broken 7:46! The year prior he had set the Inland Northwest Intermediate Record in 7:06, a mark that stands to this day. I felt he would have a great race and didn't know how I would do due to uncontrollable nerves. At the start David looked over at me and said, "Aron, stay with me no matter what...no matter what, k?", I said "Ok" and from the gun I hung on my brother's shoulder. We ran together with him talking to me, encouraging me, pushing me and inspiring me. He believed in me and I believed in him. I gave all I could that day. The final results were astounding. David finished second in 6:33.3, narrowly losing, while I was third in 6:43! We had both qualified for Nationals. More-so for me this was the single greatest moment to that point in my running career, my big break through and I couldn't have done it without the encouragement of my brother David.
Upon arriving home it became clear that David and I would not be able to attend the National Championships to be held in San Jose, California, the money just wasn't available. Discouraged David and I contacted local running legend and close friend Jason Uhlman for advice. The summer following our freshman year we met Jason Uhlman. Uhlman will be known for his 12th place finish at the 1991 Foot Locker Finals. A three-time state champion, Uhlman guided us the summer following our freshman year. We lived a block from his house and he had a great fondness for the intensity of my brother David and often would push David to insane paces on the HILLS, the bread and butter for Jason Uhlman. We would arrive at the outside window of his bedroom window and tap on it until he would answer. In his own words as recorded that summer by the local KLEW News channel during a Prep Athlete of the Week Report he would say, "Aron & David basically followed me everywhere I went at first, they just clung to me like glue and I couldn't get rid of them. It didn't take long before I saw their love and passion for running. They can be great, they have an energy about them that is just not common." ~ Jason Uhlman. As I sat in his car following Regional’s, contemplating the loss of not having the money to go to nationals, Jason gave me some advice which would inspire our next move, he said, "You have to be tough and never give up, life is not fair, Aron, if you want this bad enough you will find a way, go find a way." There it was.
We rallied our community behind us, we went to local businesses, knocked on door after door until we raised the money necessary to attend the national championships. The national championship experience was one of joy rather than competition for David and I. As we look back, we recall very little of that day with the exception of one moment. The Opening Ceremonies. Walking out with the other athletes as we assembled on the in-field we were moved, we were a part of something larger than life it would seem we were important. We mattered. This was our Olympics.
On the journey back home we drove through the Oregon coast enroute to Portland, Oregon. After drifting asleep we awoke at a gas station somewhere in Oregon. Asking our mother where we were, she replied, “Coos Bay, Oregon.” David and I looked at each other and sprung into gear. We grabbed some loose change and ran to the closest phone booth. Opening the phone book we searched for one name, Prefontaine. “There it is!” shouted David and we called the first number on the list. As the phone rang we stood in silence sharing the phone. To our surprise Ray answered the phone.
"I remembered someone telling me that Pre was from there so I asked my mom for a quarter, went to a phone booth and called the first Prefontaine listed. A guy named Ray answered, I asked if he was a relative of Pre and he said yes, he was his dad. I told him how much I appreciated his son's influence on runners and that I was just returning from the Junior Olympics in California. He immediately told me to come by the house and gave me directions. I told my mom and she didn't believe me, but gave in to my youthful persistance. As we drove up Elrod I saw a little house on the left, with a little trailer parked out front and a guy who looked exactly like Pre standing in the front yard. I nervously approached him and he put his arm around me and my brother Aron and said "lets go inside!". Once in, he asked if I wanted to see Steve's room and took me to it. I knew at that moment that there was something special about this place, there was a sense of greatness. As we waited for Pre's mom to come home we went through every photo album they had and then the mail came. Ray received a box from some Hall of Fame. As we sat on the couch next to a full wall mirror reflecting a large image of Pre hanging on the opposite wall, Raymond pulled out Pre's olympic warmup uniform. He stated, "I haven't seen this since the 70's, here hold it and get a picture with it" as we did he stated "what are the odds it would come while you were here". I was shocked at how Pre was about my size. He was a normal guy, behind the mystique, who just put his head down and worked hard. He had normal parents, a normal home, normal friends, and an uncommon zeal for life and hard work." ~David Taylor
Standing in the home of Steve Prefontaine was something out of a movie. We stood in his room. We looked through his scrapbooks. We spent time with Ray. Then it happened exactly as David stated. The package arrived the day we arrived. He handed us the uniform and snapped a photo. He held the uniform in his hands and he paused rubbing the fabric between his finger tips, silence... then looking at David he asked, "would you try this on? I haven't seen it worn in such a long time and you remind me so much of my son." My brother then tried on the uniform and got a hug from Ray. With a tear in his eye Ray put his arm around David and took him into the kitchen and then spent the next 30 minutes together. He said, "you remind me so much of my son."
Every runner who sticks with the sport long past his prime to either coach or inspire others does so because of one enduring moment. For us that moment occurred in 1995, in Coos bay, Oregon, in the home of Steve Prefontaine, with the words of Ray Prefontaine as he placed his hand on our shoulders and said "you will be great". For kids with an unstable home and seemingly no natural talent that made an enduring impact. For us, we felt called to immerse ourselves in the totality of the sport, that meant the forgotten past. We wanted to tell the stories no one would tell and started that fall as I produced our schools first team book with results and dialogue. We used to go over to Lewis And Clark State College after school and pull out micro film for newspapers across the nation and just started going back, farther and farther, documenting any and every result we could find. The results we found were used to establish school records and all time lists for our High School and the College (Lewis and Clark State College). It became a compulsion that sort of set the pace for the future of XC Legacy.
In every sport there is an athlete, coach, and a writer who redefines the meaning of excellence. To us there is only one athlete and that is Steve Prefontaine. We hope that everything we do from the moment we met Ray to the day we are done helps redefine excellence for this sport.