This interview was published
in the April 2003 issue of Inside Texas Running and is published
here with their permission.
Note: Frank Shorter was the last American to win the Gold Medal
in the Olympics Marathon and Bill Rogers is a multiple Boston Marathon
Shorter/Rodgers Interview 2/21/03 at the Conoco/Phillips Rodeo
Run in Houston
By Len Hill
ITR: Today is the 21st of February and I am talking with Bill
Rodgers and Frank Shorter.
FS:(laughing) I didn't do it.( Rodgers laughs ) Is there a glass
plate in here? (laughing) I love Law and Order, by the way.
ITR: I guess I am kind of lucky in that I get to talk to a lot
of people who run, but that's not their job. You guys are pretty
much involved with running, pretty much, most of the time,
but uh, if it is okay with you I’m not going to ask you a
whole lot of questions specifically about running. If that is okay?
I ask anything you are uncomfortable with, then please feel
free - ah - it is all exercise related.
FS: I will just say, "Huh?"(laughs)
BR: Is it about economics and politics and stuff instead?
ITR: Oh no, it will be exercise related. You know, yesterday,
I pulled up Bill's bio. off of the Internet. Frank, I couldn't
quite find yours. I found some interviews that were done with you.
But, um, in the bio. Bill it said that you have a Master of Science
in Special Education?
BR: A Masters degree, a Masters in Education.
ITR: Is it Special Education?
BR: Yeah, Special Ed. I taught for three years, or so.
ITR: I see. And Frank, what is your background there?
FS: I graduated from Yale in 1969, from the University of Florida
Law School in 1974, and passed the Colorado bar and was admitted
ITR: Do you practice?
FS: No. I have never really practiced.
BR: - Not law, but running he did (laughs).
FS: Yeah, running, but not law. But I did use it in certain ways
as you were referring to as in earning a living. It helped when
I worked to get a trust fund clause so athletes could win money
and stuff like that. It has helped along the way as different things
ITR: As a lawyer - you were a lawyer then, is that right?
ITR: Is there anything you need to do to maintain that?
FS: Yeah, you have Continuing Legal Education. They have it here
in Texas, as a matter of fact, Matt Lucas, who is Don Lucas' son,
who has all of the Luke's Lockers. Both Don Lucas, who I have known
for years, is a lawyer. His son Matt, people don't know he is a
lawyer, is like me. He doesn't want people to know he is a lawyer
because we want them to like us (laughs). He is taking CLE here.
We were talking about it yesterday. It is just called Continuing
Legal Education. You can go to lectures, you can even listen to
tapes on airplanes - they want you to stay current. So you do have
to stay current to maintain your license even if you are not practicing.
ITR: And what year was it that you passed?
ITR: So that was the year that you were in the Olympics - or that
era. Was it hard to balance all of that training with all of that?
Certainly the academics must have been challenging?
FS: No. I was actually going to law school in 1972. I started
in law school in '71 and graduated in '74. So I was training for
the Olympics, running or averaging around 20 miles a day and going
to law school full time. But I had always done that. I had always
combined academics and athletics and in a way they complement each
other. Being in school is the best place to be if you are an athlete
because you can structure your own time. So, in a way I was hedging
and saying that if the Olympic stuff doesn't work out at least
I can be a lawyer.
BR: You must have had good teammates - training partners?
FS: Right. In Florida, in Gainesville. I actually got down there
and got bored with training. Not with the people, but with doing
nothing but training, and so I decided to go to law school. I moved
to Gainesville to be around a group of runners, three of whom made
the Olympic team. Jack Boetccher, Jeff Galloway, and I. We all
ITR: If I may ask, the economics of the situation - how were you
able to afford going to school, and training for the Olympics?
How were you able to eat?
FS: Ah, you could cash in plane tickets, you would get a certain
amount of per diem expense money.
FS: Meets. You couldn't win money, at that point. That came later.
What you did was live on very little. I think all of us that were
competing - Bill is the same way - you don't need much to live.
And really, law school, with in state tuition, was $260.00 a quarter.
I got a legal education for about two thousand dollars and the
coach Jimmy Carnes, of the Florida Track Club, where I was, had
talked to some local developers, who were overbuilt, into letting
us live in some of the condominiums at certain times. So in a way
you were just scrambling. And that is what you did. But it was
not an esthetic lifestyle. It is not as if you are starving, as
if you were doing without. It is basically as if being a college
kid was continuing.
ITR: It is a good life?
BR: Well the tricky thing is you were in grad school but you were
also on your way to being a professional runner, although you didn't
know it at the time. But it is also very counter-culture, I think,
being a runner. It is the one job that you can do that pays the
least in America.
FS: When it comes to sports.
BR: Of anything, of most anything, like being a plumber or an
FS: On a per-hour basis.
BR: You don't get into running to make money, so it is very counter-culture.
But at the time Jeff Galloway made a very interesting point to
me. That time was in the early seventies, and there was a pretty
severe recession. So we went to grad school, or at some point
we maybe scraped up enough money to open up a running store with
or family, or something like that. Jeff did that, Frank did that,
I did that. But we were really driven by the focus of - the Marines
say "Be as good as you can be". You know, that is what
it was all about. There was no money, so that is not a factor.
Unlike today, today there is money in it, but I still believe,
the best runners are not in it for the money - they want to be
FS: To put it another way, Michael Jordan was a gym rat.
FS: He hung out in the gym. He had the key to the gym. He wanted
to be a good basketball player.
BR: The eye of the tiger.
FS: He wasn't thinking about money. The irony of that is, what
makes it kind of ironic, is when you do become successful as a
professional athlete in particular, a lot of the young children
who are emulating these stars do have a different perspective.
BR: They think it was like that (snaps his fingers).
FS: I want to be good so I will be rich, like Mike, whereas that
is not what Mike did. You see, that is where something is being
lost here. But as Bill said, it didn't bother us, because at that
time, the making of the team was the true goal.
ITR: Let me ask something about that. You talk about the children
now. I imagine you guys both in your careers deal a lot with children.
BR: We each have kids too.
ITR: Oh, you both have kids?
BR: We are parents too, yeah. I have a twelve-year-old and a seventeen-year-old.
FS: And I have a thirteen, twenty-one, and twenty-four.
ITR: So you have teenagers. So they were children essentially
of the nineties, or the eighties and the nineties. I think you
see a lot in children nowadays - and I want to ask you about this
- the statistics are out, a lot of the children nowadays are overweight,
I think it is sixty per-cent. I don't know what percentage it is,
but a good portion are considered obese. Now how is that different?
What happened? How did we get to that?
BR: Well, I think we have all heard a little bit about the video
games, and the Internet, and all of the sedentary activity. There
is more TV available to kids and cable and so on. I think that
is one force that is very powerful. It is sort of empowering the
kids to get on the Internet. To talk with their friends. My daughter
is on the Internet with her friends. In the door, she goes right
up stairs and gets on the Internet with friends and can stay there
for some hours. I think that when we were kids, we didn't have
that. There was much more of a tendency for things not to be organized
ITR: Let me ask you this Bill. You were born in what year?
ITR: Let's say it is '59, and let us say you are 12, or 13. It
is Saturday afternoon. What is Bill Rodgers doing?
BR: You mean as a kid?
ITR: What are you doing as a kid - when you were young?
BR: When I was twelve years old I played pick up sports. I hunted
and fished and hiked. I was a Boy Scout. I rode my bike a lot.
I loved stuff like that. I loved being outdoors. I am not an indoor
person, I am an outdoor person.
ITR: But you were raised in the north?
BR: Yeah, in Hartford, Connecticut, but we lived on the edge of
woods, and swamps, and stuff.
ITR: But in the cold weather months?
BR: In the cold weather months we went out hunting, low-key stuff.
And then at age 15 I started running. I think today, there are
more choices for kids. I think they are busier than ever. They
don't have time to be kids anymore. And this is a real tragedy.
I think they are just kind of' programmed where you have to do
this, you have to do that. You have to be a mini-adult. You have
to be great at this, you have to be good at that. Be good at school,
be good at piano, and everything. Rather than just going out and
playing. That is what Dr. George Sheenan always said. Just go out
and play. And then if you do that, you find something you love
- some physical activity you love - running, biking, swimming,
whatever, something you could get good at it. But what I think
the tricky thing is myself, I think the fast food industry wasn't
ITR: You think that is the culprit - well, maybe not the culprit,
but is a factor?
BR: Yeah. They're in the schools. I mean many of the schools have
the huge vending machines. And maybe the dietary issues haven't
been looked at as much in some of the schools. Personally I'd love
to see in the curriculum of the schools, I'd love to see the Surgeon
General, the President's Council on Physical Fitness in Sports,
get together and implement within the curriculum running-walking-slash-fitness.
Mandatory. Or you find something you like, whether it is dancing,
something that keeps you fit. And you learn what does it mean to
be fit. In other words, our sport structure is built up towards
developing professional athletes, so five per-cent of the school
goes out and plays sports and the rest are sedentary.
ITR: When you guys were growing up - correct me if I am wrong
- but JFK back then had the big push, didn't he, for exercise in
the schools? Do you still see that in the schools?
FR: They had the fitness tests.
BR: They still have that in the schools. I mean, my daughter runs
the mile, and they have the fitness tests. I think we are beginning
to slowly shift. I think more and more parents are becoming aware
of this problem. But I think the problem is we live in a little
niche world of running. People who just walk, or run, and they're
fit. I think a lot of people yet, because they didn't find a way
to be an athlete when they were in middle school, or high school,
I think running is one of the sports that has an open door policy,
that reaches out into the community, like all these relay teams
that are signing up. You can be like twenty-five years old and
do your first event.
ITR: All right, Frank, what do you feel is the genesis of this
situation with children?
FR: I think it is that parents just don't kick their kids out
the door as much as they used to. I think the demise of sandlot
sports has had a lot to do with it. When you asked about Saturday
afternoon, I'd be out playing baseball -
ITR: And where did you grow up?
FR: In upstate New York, near West Point, in the Hudson River
Valley. The same kind of situation as Bill, but I do think - although
there was TV, and you watched a lot of TV, I feel that somehow
that soccer moms unwittingly, maybe, have been contributing to
this. I think that if a child gets the idea that they are only
going to exercise when there is an adult supervising and they are
wearing an uniform -
BR: - They get used to it.
FR: - Yeah, that becomes when they exercise. Really, I think that
going out and playing with your friends is kind of becoming a lost
art, with the kids in the neighborhood. The other irony that strikes
me is for example, basketball, professional basketball in this
country - I think it is safe to say it is a way out of the ghetto,
it is a way out of poverty for a lot of young kids. But those kids
aren't inside playing video games - probably can't afford them
- and for whatever reason they're outside on the basketball court
with the hoop that doesn't have a net on it, and playing, and playing,
and playing, and playing. What strikes me from the soccer perspective
is - in 1970 I flew into Rio de Janeiro to run the midnight race
in Sao Paulo. We arrived at five in the morning. The sun was coming
up. The plane landed and on every patch of ground between the runways
at the international airport were kids that had come out of the
woods that were living on the edge of the airport runways to play
soccer. I mean every available piece of ground.
ITR: How many moms were there?
FR: Yeah. (laughs) How many moms were out there? And what nation
produces better soccer players? Okay? I think a lot of that has
been lost. When you are caring about your children perhaps you
always have to remember at what point you can become over involved
because of something you need rather than something the child needs.
ITR: Could you define that for me?
FR: I would say a soccer team situation in which entire families
travel over the interstate on holidays to play in tournaments.
BR: I have a friend who is like that. He is grooming his kids
to be professional hockey players.
ITR: What is it that the parents are getting out of it?
FR: I don't know, I don't know. You asked me about the kids. This
comes around to me more about my involvement with drugs, for
example. I don't really care about the elite athletes who are taking
right now. I think in dealing with them is in how you provide
and make it as safe as possible for the young athletes coming up.
the focus is on the young athlete, and that is what drives how
you deal with the elite athletes who are cheating. In so, ironically,
in terms of young athletes it's different in that my focus is
on what they're doing because I think in a way its their activity
and the parents trying to maximize their success at that activity
that's the problem and the parents have to take a view of the
and how you're structuring what the child is doing either as
a parent or from the outside so that these parents will know how
much is enough, how much involvement is enough. How much structured
time they need, how much unstructured time they need if it is
sport. For example, in my personal opinion, major league baseball.
The best players are the ones who were just outside playing all
of the time. And yeah, they may have been in an organized league,
but chances are just participating in an organized league isn't
what got them to the point of being able to make it as a professional
baseball player. And I think I am getting around to finding an
answer to your question. That's what the parents don't understand.
It is not the time spent with the child at their activity that
is going to produce the highest level athlete. It is in supporting
the child in an organized activity - and Bill alluded to this
- so the child can find what they truly like to do and let them
And then that's where they rise to the highest level and that's
where the parents lose it. They don't understand it. Bill was
talking about the guy who was taking his kids all over because
them to be professional hockey players. Those kids in rural Saskatchewan
on frozen lakes - the dad is out on the farm. He is not flying
them to Vancouver. And that's where America is missing it. They
just don't understand. There is something about this "quality
time culture" that is a little bit out of whack - not that
it is bad, it is essential - but there is a certain point where
it reaches a point of diminishing return and in many cases it
is at a point of diminishing return.
ITR: If I may ask two things here, one - these are children you
are talking about whose parents are pushing them into this sport
or that sport, under the guise I suppose of being good parents,
or being supportive parents. But what about these kids that aren't
getting any exercise? And you Frank, I think you said parents need
to kick them out the door - to push them out the door - what are
we going to do, what is going to happen there, to this 60 per cent(
of overweight children)?
BR: Schools can play a role. You can start activities at middle
school age. I think you need to start it when you begin to develop
habits. You begin to smoke, or use drugs, in middle school today,
not like in high school when we were kids - everything is earlier.
So if we could have programs in our schools, if we could have something
in our curriculums, we need to uh, highlight the Greeks - sound
mind and sound body and all. If we gave opportunities - what does
it mean to be fit? Not just the 10 per cent of the school, but
for the whole school, have it low-key. But ultimately it is further
down the road. They say ultimately it is parents who are the role
models. Kids do what the parents will allow. If you smoke then
kids are more apt to smoke. If the parents are cyclists then they
might try cycling. They get caught up in it. And I see that with
all of my friends, that they run, or whatever they do, and their
kids sometimes run, or they do another sport, like lacrosse or
something, you know. But I think the toughest thing today is the
people are so busy working so hard to make a living that they don't
have time, or they haven't - I believe they think it sort of overwhelming,
it's so difficult to get fit that they never try. You know, instead
of giving it that half-hour every other day, or something. And
thereby they lose their function as a role model in that way which
is really hard on them, and on the kid ultimately. So I think small
business needs to have opportunities, because most people work
in small businesses, to get fit, or have a shower facility, or,
you know -
ITR: So you feel it could come from the business and the academic
- the school end?
BR: I see it coming from a lot of places. I also see it coming
from the doctors. If you could have, like in every doctor's office,
doctors who were proactive and talking about what does it mean
to be healthy and fit, rather than the current system that we have
FS: With most doctors it's "It's not like me, it's like I'm
telling you." (laughs ) "I'm so busy, I don't have time
to work out, but I'm telling you what you should do to work out." (laughs)
BR: Yeah, yeah - they play a huge role in our society.
ITR: Do you feel in our society, with children, and maybe with
adults, have accepted a standard of fitness which is not healthy?
BR: I think the American people are tough, competitive people,
and they are not happy with that.
FS: I think a lot of it is marketing. In other words we have marketed
our way into this health crisis.
BR: That is a very good point. I agree 100 per cent. And that
is tough, 'cause how are you going to shift that?
FS: Think of it this way - sort of combined thoughts - soccer
family fills up van, after game, drives to fast food.
BR: (laughs) That's true. I've taken my daughter, my kids, to
the fast food joints.
FS: I won't say any more about that - and you know the trans fats
going out of fast food - so there is a trend there. Cooper, Kenneth
Cooper at the Cooper aerobics institute, is now working with Pepsi
and Frito-Lay to take the trans fats out of potato chips, McDonalds
has had to reduce the amount of trans fats they fry their foods
in - finally - they're not doing this willingly I think. In response
to public pressure, gradually it's happening. What I think has
happened, and Bill pointed out, with families having to work more
and more, more two family incomes, latch key kids, people are turning
their kids over to the schools. Either consciously or unconsciously,
saying you take on a certain amount of parental role here that
used to be taken at home. And so the question becomes how do you
do that at school and then at the same time you are having fast
food franchises in the schools? Okay, that is sort of an irony,
a euphemism for whatever you want to describe it as. But it seems
to me to be not much more than marketing. You have fast food as
opposed to cut up fresh vegetables? Okay?
ITR: So you feel that diet itself is a big problem?
FS: Dietary habits and the trust of parents when they turn their
children over to the schools, to the care of the schools. They
certainly entrust. You know, we all trust and I think in a way,
as Bill said, the best education you can have, and the best influence
- for instance, in academic achievement, it has been known forever
- you don't need experts from the various research institutes,
you know, you don't have to be a Harvard business school graduate
or a curriculum expert from Brown to tell you that parental involvement
is the key factor in academic achievement. It is. And yet at the
same time you have parents willing to turn their children over
to the schools out of necessity and in a certain sense they have
rationalized the choice, now whether it is conscious or unconscious,
it has happened. In other words, you could reverse some very simple
things. Tell the parents, and convince the parents, that turning
the child over to the school isn't enough - that they have to stay
involved. The second part is, as Bill said, within the schools
themselves, don't give into the financial pressure which then translates
into political pressure. The only reason you have fast food outlets
in schools is revenue. It has nothing to do with the welfare of
the children. Period.
ITR: If I can go back and ask a question, similar to a question
I asked Bill earlier, when you were growing up, what was your diet
- what was it like? Wasn't your diet Cokes and Twinkies, and candy
BR: It was like that, but it wasn't as prevalent. I remember lunch
at school, trying to save lunch money and I'd eat two ice cream
sandwiches and then I'd go out and run track practice. I would
be starving by the time I got home. I didn't have a perfect diet,
and I don't think many people do but I think the forces, and the
amount, and the quantity and the types of junk food are ten times
higher and more prevalent. You can get addicted to fat and sugar.
ITR: When you guys were growing up, how many times a week did
you guys eat at fast food?
FS: Almost never. I did not visit a fast food place until I was
in college, and that was only on trips.
BR: You are talking about the sixties.
ITR: The sixties, the seventies.
BR: So when did it really boom? The big question is can some company
make as much money selling nutritionally quality food to young
people as they do with fast food today. You know you see that -
you go into these fast food places and they have a little section
there of better quality food.
ITR: Salads, and stuff like that?
BR: Yeah - and chicken without the bread, and stuff on it. You
are starting to see this, you know. I think it will be a market
force. That is what is going to change it, the people will demand
it and will write about it more.
ITR: Okay. Let me go at the other end of the spectrum, as far
as exercise goes. I am not that much of an athlete, I am not that
much of a runner, but in covering the races you know as you get
older, in the age categories, you see fewer and fewer people. I
don't think it is just because those people aren't around, or that
they have passed on, I think as you get older, people get away
from it. What about exercise for people that are into their sixties
and seventies? I mean, at what age should you stop running? At
what age is it unhealthy?
BR: I think actually the numbers are going up in the older groups.
There is a running club in Massachusetts, the over sixty-five running
club, and I went to their race in November and they have 400 people
in their club, all over the age of sixty-five. I was there at the
club meeting about five years ago, and their numbers were smaller.
I think the numbers are growing.
FS: Go here and see what the number of entries are in the various
age groups (at the ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run).
BR: I bet you half of them are over age forty.
BR: Because it is a lifetime sport. That is the beauty of this
FS: Just to interject - the difficulty is, it really doesn't start
until people are in their mid-twenties. I mean running has been
very good, especially with the charity races, bringing in people
from all over. But what we are talking about again is kids - the
point is, up through high school and college, no. The numbers aren't
there. Ironically, it seems the older ones are taking care of themselves
better than the younger ones are being taken care of. Maybe that
is the way to put it. If you look at the entries of these races,
it really is the older age groups that really are growing. Look
at the Boston marathon. I think the largest number of entries is
in the forty to fifty age groups. For both men and women.
ITR: I guess by older I was talking about -
BR: In their sixties and seventies?
ITR: Yeah, I mean does running become detrimental at a certain
point, where the joints become affected, and those types of things.
BR: No, it’s a myth. It's a myth. And a lot of people in
the media -when I do T.V. interviews all over the country for the
last twenty years - I have had people, including doctors - I was
on the Dinah Shore show and this doctor actually got up there and
said "Oh no, you shouldn't run. It's harmful to you, you know
- your joints." Well, it’s been proven actually your
joints get stronger, tendons and muscles get stronger. Your heart
FS: You actually develop lubrication if you are arthritic.
BR: There are so many positive things, but yet we don't really
see this kind of evidence put forth into programs in our society.
There has to be some sort of incentive somewhere. Either lower
insurance costs when you get your health insurance, because you
are an active individual - money has got to come into this somehow
- and that is one way. Let's say you go to see your doctor, you
pay a lower co-payment because you're a swimmer, or cyclist, of
something like that. I think the financial incentive will ultimately
play a big role. We already see that somewhat in our society in
the cost of health care.
ITR: If I can ask you guys a few questions about running - I don't
have many more questions. In a few weeks they have the Bayou City
Classic here and I had to interview someone who was involved with
it and they were talking about how they are trying to regenerate
interest in it, back in the race. She mentioned that running really
hit its heyday back there in the late eighties. She said that is
when the numbers were really up for the races. She said she is
starting to see it come back now. You guys have been involved with
the sport for what - thirty, forty years? You guys have seen the
whole spectrum. Have you seen a cycle in running? Has it gone up
and down? And what caused it to go up? What caused it to go down?
BR: What is really unique is that this is the first - there was
the running boom, which was really small numbers, but because
it was a lot more numbers than when we first started, you know,
thought it was a big deal. When 2000 people ran the New York
City marathon in 1976 we thought that was a lot of people. 2000
running the marathon. We thought this was huge. Well now they
turn away 30-40 thousand and 30,000 run it every year. And they
to shut down the Disney marathon, the Marine Corp marathon. But
what has happened now, for the first time our sport has gone
mainstream. It is a mainstream sport like basketball or baseball.
I think those
numbers are only going to grow. I think what has happened is
you have more races than ever before. The race like the Bayou Classic
may have had high numbers in the eighties, but then there was
as other people said, "Well, I'll put on a race too."
FS: I have a question. Did this person involved with the race
- has she been with it since the start?
ITR: I am not sure.
FS: My guess is, and I am just guessing, is that they have had
some change in management of the race. Really, the critical thing,
most races that have been around for twenty-five years have basically
experienced steady growth. It will fall off - it really is a management
situation when you get different people involved because if you
look at the steering people, with the ConocoPhillips run, it is
pretty steady. They are always here, year after year, it is a labor
of love. They develop an expertise, and that is the biggest part
of the momentum of the growth of the race. And now I will answer
your question. The other big part of the running boom- the running
for other people and for other reasons, the charity runners.
BR: And the women coming into the sport.
FS: My theory is what you are doing is you are getting people
from the first wave of the running boom coaching those people,
a lot of them, from the second wave, coming from an area they never
would have thought five years ago that they'd be runners. But they
have run for other people.
ITR: But you talk about the running boom. Define that era.
FS: It was about 1978 through the mid eighties.
ITR: Okay, and what happened after that. What happened in the
BR: "The Complete Book of Running" by Jim Fixx was the
number one best selling book of the 1970's of any book in the United
States. It was kind of - running as an activity or sport or whatever
- was kind of a phenomenon to the media, I think, but it was really
a small amount of people taking part. What has happened I think
is that you have had triathlon, and walking events, and soccer,
come out of that running boom. And I think these big walks were
so - people for the first time could say, "You know, I don't
have to be seven feet tall like my friend Joe was in junior high
school on the basketball team. I can get out here and I can walk
six miles, and I feel pretty good. You know, I lost two pounds
today, and I got thinner and I raised four hundred dollars for
fighting MS or something." When you can do that, that is
power. That is power. So for the first time that is happening
in our society.
ITR: But what happened in the mid eighties?
FS: This is just a guess here, but if you wanted to set up your
studies, that a lot of the smaller races, and Bill touched on this,
people move, people lose interest, people organizing the races.
The big races in this country, that are more than 15 years old,
it is almost a straight-line growth.
ITR: So you feel that the boom - never really declined?
BR: I don't think it ever declined. I think the media got interested
in other sports. Like the triathlon. Suddenly it was the triathlon
and that race in Hawaii. So, what was the next sport to replace
running, since running was going to fade away. It was just jogging,
it was a trend and was going to go away. It never went away. But
the media said it went away, but they were wrong.
ITR: Let me ask you a thought question here. What - and each of
you take 25 words or less to answer this question - what generated
the birth of running? I mean there was no running in the '20's,
'30's, '40's. I mean what generated the birth of running?
BR: There was track and field, one of our oldest sports.
ITR: Right, but nothing like the seventies.
BR: No, no. But some people say Frank's gold medal victory in
the Olympics with two billion people in the world watching and
seeing an American win an Olympic gold in the long distance racing,
in the marathon. I think there were a number of factors, but I
think that was a pivotal, visual moment that was impacted by a
lot of societal trends. We were in a tough time in the Vietnam
war, in recession, so I think running is one of the things you
can control in your life. And I think a lot of people don't have
much control in their lives in any way, and so I think when society
is in a time of crises, people look for ways to maintain stability
or something. And for some reason it was a time of exploration,
in the sixties and seventies. Individual exploration. Whether it
was women in our society getting more power, economic power. But
it was also a change in sports from our country being a people
of only spectators but also participants. I think that trend will
ITR: I see. That is a very good answer. A little bit longer than
25 words. It is interesting, it is interesting, bringing up Frank's
medal, the Vietnam War. Maybe it was a time of introspection, at
that time. People were looking inward too. And I think what you
said - this is just my opinion - hit a nerve. Running is something
you can control. You can control that aspect of your life.
BR: You can't control the terrorist. You can stay pretty fit though.
That is one thing you can do. We live in a similar time, a kind
of stressful time now, so I wouldn't be surprised if the numbers
keep going up.
ITR: Alright Frank, if you could take a stab at that question.
FS: Well, I agree with the items that Bill brought up. You also
have to add Bill in. I think the fact that Bill and I basically
covered the decade of the 1970's as being the number one marathon
runner in the world, I think that had an impact. The U.S. is
the visual media - the epicenter of the world. The other thing,
that time, fitness was starting to be quantified. You had a study
called the Framingham study, which was a longitudinal study of
Harvard graduates - of exercise and health. Those results were
starting to come in. For the first time there was really scientific
proof that exercise really improves your health. Up until then,
the same doctor who was going to say running is bad for you,
could say there is no proof that exercise is good for you. And
of doctors were willing to do that. Obviously, how do you rationalize
your inactivity? You can see I am a little down on the medical
profession. In the sense of not providing a very good example
overall. It certainly is a lot of "Do as I say and not as I do." Especially
with regards to personal health. I mean why else would you require
people to learn to stay up for 200 hours in a row in order to become
a doctor. Is that healthy? It all starts there, I think. A certain
attitude that is just sort of weird. It starts in the process in
that "You're different. You have to prove that you can do
this." But along with that comes from some feeling that perhaps
what you do doesn't apply to you. ….. So, three words - "Exercise
being quantified", "Bill, following me, as the number
ITR: That is six, with the editorial on it.
FS: - Role models, and along with this control - you could chart
your improvement, and you could see results of your effort. So
as Bill pointed out, it was a very turbulent time, but you could
do things where you could see the results of your effort. And there
is so many things in life where that is not true.
ITR: Okay, I just want to ask you one or two more things, then
I will stop bugging you. One thing, for me personally, and for
my son, you guys both knew Steve Prefontaine. Is that right?
BR: I didn't know him.
FS: Pre died in '75 and Bill had his breakthrough race in Boston
ITR: Well, let me ask you Frank, what kind of guy was Prefontaine?
FS: He was very determined, very direct. He was abrasive, loyal,
street smart, and had a sense of giving back, even while he was
competing. The night he died we were sitting out in front of Kenny
Moore's house, he (Prefontaine) had given me a ride home and we
were discussing how we were going to fight the AU on the amateur
issue - to try to open up the sport so people could support themselves.
ITR: You were both the same age?
FS: No, he was four years younger. And uh, he dropped me off,
and drove around the corner and died. So, uh, he was very charismatic.
Without a doubt, for whatever reason, the state of Oregon has never
been the same. And something like that is probably never going
to happen anywhere else. You had to have been in Oregon, from about
1970 to 1975 to understand the impact he had on the state. They
would fill the stands at Hayward field for dual meets when he ran.
The whole state was focused on this kid.
ITR: He was charismatic?
FS: He was charismatic in a good way - he was from a blue collar,
lumber town on the coast. He was the archetypal, Oregonian, lumber
town success stories. He was the first athlete to wear Nike shoes,
under contract. Pre was number one. It is difficult to understand.
People picked up on his directness. It was truly what you saw was
what you got. He was one of those people that in private it was
the same directness that you saw in public. There were no alternating
personas. He was very loyal.
ITR: You said he was direct, and somewhat abrasive?
FS: Abrasive meaning sometimes he wouldn't care what the - he
really didn't mind offending people in a good way, because what
that to me means is in your interaction with someone you're not
saying "Whoops, I'd better be careful this person may be in
some position to do something harmful to me, or something that
is going to make my life inconvenient, or something that is going
to impede my progress towards this goal." There was nothing "covering
my ass" about the guy. He never covered his butt - okay? Maybe
that is the best way to put it. I want to end it by telling you
an anecdote. As much as he complained, I used to call it pissing
and moaning, as much as Pre would complain, because that is the
way we thought together. He would complain to me and I would sort
of talk the way I'm talking to you about it. We'd run along and
talk about it. He'd came and stayed with me for about a month right
before he died, and we were down in Taos, we'd drove down there,
in his van. It is a 320-mile, 2 six pack drive. And we are running
at 9000 feet, down a road that was probably a 7, 8, or 9 per cent
grade, in a 32-degree corn snow blizzard where the snow was blowing
horizontally. And corn snow is the kind where it hits and freezes.
And he was going along like crazy. He was in rare form. Pissin'
and moanin' and complaining about everything in the universe. And
I turned to him and said "Pre, do you realize no one in the
world is training as hard as we are right now." He shut
up. He didn't say another word the entire run. So in addition
of those other things, he's got - and Bill's got it to - when
it really matters you have to have the ability to focus. And
what it was. Again, as much as he had this sort of appearance
of being out of control, when it mattered he could be instantly
ITR: If I can just ask you a personal question - if you don't
want to answer it, that's fine - but how did his death affect you?
FS: Survivor guilt. He would not have been where he was when he
died if he hadn't been giving me a ride to where I was going. If
I had talked to him five minutes longer, five seconds longer, five
seconds less, he wouldn't have died.
ITR: Okay, thank you.