Prefontaine did all of this, remember, in the backdrop of a city where it is commonly held that babies are weaned on stopwatches.
"When Steve ran there was tailgating on the lawn," Ron Sherriffs, Prefontaine's academic adviser recalled. "All of the cars with Coos Bay license plate frames--everything from pickup trucks to Mercedes--were parked outside. He was as much theirs as ours, you know. The whole atmosphere was like an old fashioned county fair."
Prefontaine's genius--and if that seems too strong of a word, consider that when the rest of us die, they will not close schools and businesses, write up to a dozen poems, one song, rename streets, or build memorials in honor of \o7 our \f7 lives--lay in his ability to move the masses through sheer physical exultation.
Very few athletes have that intangible ability. But, from most accounts, Prefontaine was such an athlete, one who could stir what one poet later described as that thrilling madness in Eugene. Prefontaine was the conductor at Hayward Field--with its large wooden grandstands, it is easily the Carnegie Hall of collegiate track--leading the crowd in the symphony, "Go Pre."
In a 1974 interview with The Times, Prefontaine explained just who and what he was.
"My philosophy is that I'm an artist," Prefontaine said. "I perform an art not with a paint brush or a camera. I perform with bodily movement. Instead of exhibiting my art in a museum or a book or on canvas, I exhibit my art in front of the multitudes.
"You go to a museum to look at something, say a Rembrandt. And when people go to a track meet they're looking for something, a world record, something that hasn't been done before. You get all this magnetic energy, people focusing on one thing at the same time.
"I really get excited about it. It makes me want to compete even more. It makes it all worthwhile, all the hours of hard work."
The ultimate tragedy of Steve Prefontaine's life was that, as American distance running's first budding superstar, he didn't live long enough to reap the benefits of his prodigious efforts--something that Pre's People believe would've eventually led to gold medals, world records, and beyond.
The ultimate triumph of Steve Prefontaine's death was that he was that rare individual immortalized more for what he might have done in the future than for what he had actually accomplished in the past.
\o7 "If he's having a good day and running the right race nobody can beat Frank Shorter at 10,000 meters. . . . nobody except me." \f7 --Steve Prefontaine On Prefontaine's gravestone, located on a gentle slope outside of Coos Bay, are inscribed these words: "Our beloved son & brother who raced through life now rests in peace."
While that may be a comfort to his survivors, it is also somewhat misleading.
The body might have died in that car wreck on Skyline Drive, but the spirit of Steve Prefontaine runs on.
And, like the man, it most assuredly is restless.