My boys are seven, seven and nine. Tonight, they joined me in our comfy living room to watch Without Limits, a movie version of the life of Steve Prefontaine.
At first, they were dismissive. “Why can’t we watch Men in Black II?”, they begged (loudly and repeatedly) as the opening credits hit the screen.
But with the first glimpse of “Pre” racing across our TV, they stopped asking about Will Smith and aliens. Immediately, they wanted to know more about the blonde runner, and why I was watching a movie about him, and why the crowds were cheering so loudly, and why his parents named him something so silly. They wanted to know about Bill Bowerman and what he kept doing with the waffle iron and why people with grey hair become coaches. They wanted to know how Pre became the greatest distance runner in American history. They wanted to know if I thought I could beat him.
Watching the grueling 1972 Olympics 5000-meters, my boys and I held our breath. I knew the end; they did not. I imagine they felt a little bit like the country felt. Proud. Stunned. “Wait….mom….he didn’t win? But he ran so fast.”
When he died, which I prepared the boys for, they wished he was a super hero or a stunt man. “It would have been way better if he had just been a stunt man. He could have flown his car and then just gotten out.” In fact, we took a walk afterwards and my twins were trying to re-plan the car crash so that he lived. They wanted to warn him, give him driving tips. They wanted to change the end of the story. I imagine they felt a little bit like the country felt.
At the time of his death, over 33 years ago, Steve Prefontaine held every American distance record from 2,000-meters to 10,000-meters. At the time of his death, I was two years old.
I became interested in Pre after reading one book and then a second on his life, his impact on amateur sports and his intersection with Nike. I started to YouTube his old meets and watch him for myself. Then I bought the movie.
Thirty-three years after his career and life ended, in a home in Northern California, Steve Prefontaine captivated and inspired three little boys unlike any alien movie ever has.