There are trips and there are trips. My recent trip to Eugene, Oregon was one of those “and there are trips.” To visit Track Town USA and attend the Prefontaine Classic track meet is something I had always wanted to do but never actually expected to do it. However, every year my daughter would ask, ”When are we going to Eugene?” “Someday,” was always my answer. As the years began piling up I realized my “somedays” were running out. In January she repeated her yearly question, this time with a little more persistence. Her persistence and having access to my credit card number, I at last agreeably stated, “Let’s do it.” She made all the arrangements to make that “someday” a reality. She would make an excellent travel agent!
The trip proved to be an unbelievable experience that words cannot adequately describe. For years I had read about the historic Hayward Field where more sub-four minute miles have been run than anyplace on earth. I had read about and watched on TV many Olympic champions, world champions and world record holders blazing the track at Hayward Field. I had read about the late great Steve Prefontaine blistering the track setting one American distance record after another. In 38 races he ran there, he only lost twice. I read about the huge crowds cheering as one voice as runners approached the finishline. Now I was about to witness firsthand all I had read about.
After a long plane flight, I, my daughter and her husband arrived in Eugene at 11 p.m. on Wednesday, May 28, PST. My body time, though, said it was Thursday morning 2 a.m. EST. You would have thought I would have been tired, but I was up at 5 a.m. PST ready to start seeing the sights. My daughter sleepily remarked, “Can you not wait until the sun comes up?” Like a kid at Christmas, no I couldn’t wait. I wanted to get going before I discovered my lifetime dream trip might be just that – a dream.
My first order of business was to visit revered Hayward Field where countless distance runners have been molded into champions by coaching legends Bill Hayward, Bill Bowerman, and Bill Dellinger. As I approached the almost 100 year old track complex that has yielded one champion after another, my heart raced like a teenager on his first date. Upon seeing it for the first time I was overwhelmed with emotion as I was keenly cognizant of the historical significance that Hayward Field holds in running lore. Taking numerous pictures, I couldn’t believe I was actually standing in its historic shadow. Its storied past loomed larger than life.
After some time we departed from Hayward Field, but could not do so without continually looking back. It was as if its mystique was drawing us back like a magnet. Making our way around the University of Oregon campus, we finally arrived at the Duck Store and purchased more than enough Pre shirts and Oregon hats and track shirts. With our purchases made, we made a return visit to Hayward Field. I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t awoke from my dream!
We were only a little over a mile from where Prefontaine had his tragic car accident that took his life on May 30, 1975 at age 24, so we began our walk to Pre’s Memorial Rock. Approaching the site with subdued reverence, it serves as a reminder that no one is too young to die. But the rock also serves as a reminder that our lives, regardless of our age, are to be lived so as to impact those who come after us. Though Pre’s life only spanned twenty-four years, his influence continues to inspire and impact others forty years after his death. It would that be true of us all.
From Pre’s Memorial Rock we made our way to Pre’s trails a couple of miles away. The trails are surrounded by breathtaking beauty. No wonder Pre loved to run the trails. Our footsteps were actually walking on trails his swift feet once carried him. The mystical pull associated with the Pre’s trails drew me back to run on them on Friday and Saturday mornings. There is a connectedness experienced on Pre’s trails that unites one with every other runner who has ever laced up a pair of running shoes.
Friday and Saturday we filed into Hayward Field with almost 14,000 other track fans to witness amazing performances by some of the most gifted runners, jumpers and throwers on the planet. What we witnessed did not disappoint. I actually got chills as I watched Olympic champions and world record holders demonstrate why they are the best in the world. We saw world leading performances by finely tuned and fit athletes. We saw thrilling races where the winner was decided by only hundredths of a second. We even saw a few surprises, as some athletes reached new heights of performances. What was not surprising is not one athlete participating gave less than their best effort. That is why they are where they are and who they are, because they are always reaching deep within themselves to leave it all on the track.
As the meet ended and people began filing out of the stadium, I didn’t want to leave. I sat in the stadium long after most everyone had left but the clean-up crew. I wanted to soak in as long as I could the magic that makes Hayward Field so unique. As I finally made my way out of Hayward Field and began my walk back to the motel, a twinge of sadness filled my heart. I turned around for one last look. It really wasn’t a dream, what I had witnessed and experienced in our three days in Eugene, Oregon really did happen.
One thing is for sure, it was a truly incredible trip I will forever treasure.