Who was Bill Bowerman? Not long ago I read a book by Kenny Moore entitled BOWERMAN and the Men of Oregon. Unless you are a fan of running, you probably never even heard of Bill Bowerman or realize the impact he’s had on American society.
As I read through it, for all he accomplished in life, I couldn’t help but compare Bill Bowerman to Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, a guy who experienced success around every corner. The difference, as you might guess, is that Bowerman was considered a genius, and his story was real. Gump was a slow thinking, fictional character.
Football star: Born in Fossil, Oregon, Bowerman went on to become a star receiver at the University of Oregon, eventually marrying a beautiful wife, who chose Bill over the handsome quarterback from rival UCLA (who went on to become head of Columbia pictures).
Successful Coach: After graduation, Bowerman took up coaching football at Medford High, compiling a 59-13 record. In 8 seasons as head track coach, his teams won 3 state titles.
War Hero: Assigned to the Tenth Mountain Division, days before the end of World War II, Bowerman orchestrated the surrender of 4,000 German soldiers. He earned 4 Bronze stars, a Silver Star for gallantry in action, and a Good Conduct Medal during his time of service.
Track Coach: Highlights of his coaching career include 4 team national championships for the University of Oregon. Thirty one of his athletes competed in the Olympics and 12 set an American record. Ten of his runners broke 4 minutes in the mile, including his most famous, Steve Prefontaine. He was one of the first coaches to recognize the value of rest for distance runners, preaching the hard-easy principle so commonly used by today’s athletes.
Started the Jogging Movement: Inspired by the fitness culture he discovered on a trip to New Zealand, Bowerman became one of early pioneers to promote jogging to the masses in the U.S. He co-authored a small, 20 page pamphlet called Jogging that sold over 1 million copies.
Innovator/Inventor: Recognizing the need runners have for proper footwear, Bowerman began tinkering with different running shoe designs, eventually creating the now famous Nike waffle sole still in use today. He also experimented with different surfaces and was instrumental in developing modern composite track surfaces.
Entrepreneur: Co-founder of a fledgling shoe company in 1964, Bowerman’s input into shoe design was instrumental in the growth and popularity of Nike. That company today has an annual gross sales figure estimated at 15 billion.
Nobody is more qualified to write about the life of Bill Bowerman than Kenny Moore, a brilliant writer who knew him intimately. Moore, a decent but not great high school runner, ran for the University of Oregon and under Bowerman’s guidance improved enough to place 4th in the 1972 Olympic marathon. Just one more example of Bowerman’s greatness.
written by Dave Elger, co-owner of the Wasatch Altitude Training Center, Mountain Green, Oregon