Moore’s “Bowerman and the Men of Oregon”

I ran my first and thus far my only marathon here in Portland back in October.  Tina and I trained and ran the entire marathon together (BTW, we managed to run the entire course).

Much of the credit for our successful completion of the marathon goes to Tina’s friend and palates teacher Susan Schmidt.  Susan is a super-fit marathoner herself and passed along a ton of great knowledge during our training months.  We wouldn’t have done as well as we did without her assistance and motivation.

Before departing for our 6-month trip Susan also passed along the book “Bowerman and the Men of Oregon” by Kenny Moore to read while traveling.  The book is a biography of the legendary University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman.  I am super thankful that Susan gave me this gem because it’s a book I probably wouldn’t pick out for myself but after reading it am very happy that I did.

Prior to reading the book I only knew a little about Bill Bowerman.  During our training for the marathon Tina and I did a lot of running at the Nike campus which is only a mile from our house.  If you didn’t know, the Nike headquarters is on “One Bowerman Drive” in Beaverton, OR.  I knew he had coached Nike founder Phil Knight (after reading the book I now know that Bowerman was a co-founder as well) at University of Oregon but knew little about his life or his legacy.

The author of the book, Kenny Moore, was coached by Bowerman at University of Oregon and became close with him and his family.  As a result, he offers a truly unique perspective into the life and times of the University of Oregon legend.

What impresses me first about Bowerman was his conviction to his principles.  The book quotes Phil Knight as commenting about Bowerman in saying, “he was always wrong on his facts and right on his principles.” There are numerous stories throughout the book about Bowerman going to bat for his athletes which he coached.  He knew what was right and wrong and grew frustrated when faced with others who didn’t share in his opinion.

In another example Moore explains Bowerman’s technique for testing a person’s character- “Assigning mundane, even menial tasks was a test that Bill often applied.  Failing it might not cause Bill to disappear a team member, but it would lead to a kind of probation.”

The second aspect of Bowerman that impresses me was his ability to put things in perspective.  Everything he did was a small piece of something bigger that would ultimately become his legacy.  Moore explains, “Bill Bowerman was designed…to process.  The defining aspect of his life was preparation, not completion.  The house was always unfinished, the big meets were always grounding for bigger, the best shoes could always be made better.”

In another part of the book Moore writes about Bowerman after contemplating a decision that kept U of O from defeating an opponent in a track meet, “Bowerman would nod and acknowledge such natural regrets, but didn’t seem to share them.  He occasionally pointed out that victory is sweet, but you wake up the next morning and it has flown.  Similarly, defeat dissolved.  Occasionally his view was so long that it seemed a kind of enlightened disinterest.”

Beyond Bowerman’s personal characteristics it was also interesting to learn about the many other areas in which he impacted Oregon, Nike, and the US as a whole.

What was interesting to read while in New Zealand was the impact that this country had on Bowerman and on the US as a whole.  In 1962 Bowerman brought a group of his Oregon men to race against a group of NZ runners led by their coach Arthur Lydiard.  Upon showing up to NZ Arthur dragged Bill out on a jog everyday for the entire 6 weeks that he was there.  Arthur had started jogging groups in Auckland as a way for people to get exercise.

Upon his return Bowerman has lost 10 pounds and 3 inches off his waistline.  He was so impressed with the NZ joggers that he began recreational running clubs in Eugene in 1962.  This is thought to be the birth of recreational running in the United States.  To quote Bowerman on the subject of exercise, “To procrastinators who complain that they cannot afford the fifteen or twenty minutes a day, I echo the words of Arthur Lydiard: You cannot afford not to take the time.'”

Prior to reading this book I always thought that Phil Knight was the sole founder and inventor behind Nike shoes.  However, it was actually Bill Bowerman while at the University of Oregon who first designed and invented the shoes that Phil Knight would make billions$ on.  Not to worry, Bowerman also made a pretty penny off of Nike stock and served on the board of directors for 25 years.

All in all, the book was a great read and would be enjoyed by any Oregonian with a passion for sports.  I would highly recommend it.

Here are a few other quotes from the book.

-The author Kelly Moore remembers, “There are few things that can compare to being young and healthy and a part of a team that you want to be on, and doing well, as well as you could, and being proud.”

-A motto taken on by Bowerman and his friends as they aged and began to lose their memories, “Hey, Alzheimer’s isn’t so bad.  You meet new friends everyday.”

-Bowerman on his philosophy of training, “That’s all training is.  Stress.  Recover.  Improve.  You’d think any damn fool could do it…”