Sunday, May 22, 2011

Steve Prefontaine --- Go Pre, Be Alcohol Free!

Steve Prefontaine was without a doubt one of America's greatest distance runners.
However, his full potential was never achieved, because he chose to drink alcohol in large quantities. He died in a drunk driving accident on May 30, 1975 -- almost exactly 36 years to the date as this is being written.
Could Prefontaine have won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics, had he lived on? I strongly believe so.
After more than a dozen times of driving through Coos Bay, Oregon, I finally made a visit to the special Prefontaine museum there.
The Pre exhibit is at the Coos Art Museum, 235 Anderson Avenue, Coos Bay. Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday; and 1-4 p.m. on Saturdays. Closed Sunday.
I'd recommend that museum to others. It cost $5 for adults to visit ($2 seniors and students) and it was worth every penny (and there is a separate art gallery there too).
The "Prefontaine Memorial Gallery" is upstairs in its own room, filled with trophies, awards, photographs, etc.
"Pre" was one of my idols in high school, right next to Jim Ryan. As a former official correspondent for Track and Field News Magazine, I once wrote in support of Pre's talent way back in 1973 in that publication.
However, I find it extremely disappointing that no one apparently ever had the sense or the courage to use Pre as a VIP role model not to drive drunk.
After all, that's what killed him.
Is it not ironic that Pre, a runner who had some of the highest lung capacity ever measured, suffocated in that car accident?
I found a bogus Facebook page about not supporting Pre as a role model, because he drove drunk. However, that page is simply intended as a joke.
All the official brochure on the Pre Gallery states is that he died "tragically" in a car accident.
"Runner's World" Magazine, in the spring of 2013, published a long story on Prefontaine. The story contained nothing on alcohol abuse and at its end, the writer even talked/joked about having some beers in Coos Bay...
Why is this a joke?
That's all I seemed to find on most accounts, summarizing Pre's death, "a car accident."
Pre actually died at age 24 in May of 1975 in Eugene, Oregon of driving drunk!
Why has his bad example been so ignored over the years?
Could Pre's bad example have been used to save others from driving drunk? I think it could have and it might could work even now to some extent, as a P.R. campaign, since Pre has become such a legend.
I'm sure Pre's running example has inspired countless others in the world of sports and continues to do so. But his "bad example" could save lives too.
His accident should also serve to remind young men in particular, that they are not invincible. (His car slammed into a large boulder along the roadside and features a monument nearby now.)
Sadly, America makes such a big deal of the lives lost in 9/11 when in fact, multiple times more Americans die each year because of drunk driving.
Alcohol is simply a drug and is long overdue to be treated as such.
Why alcohol is legal and so many other drugs are illegal is simply a contradiction.
Why do the lives of so many people revolve around drinking? It is sad, as well as dangerous.

--Over a million Americans are arrested driving under he influence of alcohol and narcotics every year. MADD believes that 300,000 Americans drive drunk each day, though only some 4,000 of those are arrested. This results in more than 10,000 deaths and some 290,000 injuries a year from alcohol-related crashes.

"Go Pre ... Be Alcohol Free!" --- That would be my slogan.
I can't count the times that I've heard people say they don't do drugs and then they brag about their alcohol drinking prowess.
I've met so many people who would feel greatly offended if it ever came down to any restrictions on their drinking opportunities. They believe their own world would end without alcohol. How sad that their drug of choice, alcohol, rules their poor lives.
But clearly how America handles drunk drivers over the years has not worked and clearly something else --- I'm not sure exactly what -- needs to be done to start treating alcohol as the dangerous and lethal drug that it is.
Pre never planned on driving drunk. It just happened and that's what drinking alcohol in excess can do to you -- cause you to lose sense and reason.
"Tests show Prefontaine was drunk" was one newspaper headline. His blood alcohol level was 0.16, even though friends thought he seemed OK to drive.
In the fall of 1976, I went on a five-mile training run with Frank Shorter (1972 Marathon Olympic Gold Medalist) and some other Weber State University distance runners in Ogden, Ut. I wish I would have asked Shorter back then about his spin on the accident since he was the last one to see Pre alive.
However, my former Weber State track/cross country coach, Chick Hislop, said he did ask Shorter about Prefontaine's death during that 1976 visit to Ogden.
Shorter said Pre was upset over a girlfriend in the bar and wanted to leave. Outside the bar, Shorter told him you can't safely drive home and I can't either, because both had been drinking. So, Shorter told Pre to stay put and rushed back inside to find someone to drive Pre home. But, when Shorter returned, Pre had left anyway and died in the car accident minutes later.
Hislop said this is NOT how the Prefontaine movie shows what happened, but may be more of the truth than the Hollywood version.

-Yes, I'm clearly a teetotaler by personal choice, but I'm tired of alcohol not being recognized as a serious drug with murderous consequences.
Go Pre ... Be Alcohol Free!

UPDATE: May 2017 -- I'm eating at Red Robin Restaurant in Layton, Utah and I look across the dining room to see a vintage, early 1970s photograph of Steve Prefontaine hanging on the wall. Ironically, the picture is sitting directly below a photo of some overflowing beer mugs. No one in the busy eatery appears to notice the ironic photographic combination, except myself.

NOTE: The two photographs at the start of this story show the contents of two of the display cabinets at the Prefontaine Memorial Gallery in Coos Bay, Oregon.

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