No man has affected more runners in more ways than Bill Bowerman. During his 24-year tenure as track coach at the University of Oregon, he won four national team titles and his athletes set 13 world and 22 American records. He also ignited the jogging boom, invented the waffle-sole running shoe that helped establish Nike, and coached the US track and field team at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games
With the full cooperation of the Bowerman family and Nike, plus years of taped interviews with friends, relatives, students, and competitors, two-time Olympic marathoner Kenny Moore - himself one of Bowerman's champion athletes - brilliantly re-creates the legendary track coach's life.
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That Wild Yearning
BOWERMAN MAY WELL HAVE BEEN AN INTROSPECTIVE SOUL, BUT WHO COULD tell? He spent long hours in contented silence, solving a huge range of problems, and he was brutally eloquent when dissecting others' psyches. Yet he kept the process of himself to himself. As Barbara Bowerman would recall, "I can't tell you how frustrating it was to love him and trust him, and know he loved me and trusted me, and still he would never tell me what he was thinking."
To get across what he deemed worth knowing, Bowerman's instrument, blunt or pointed, was the story. So it is to his narrative tales--what they celebrate, what they mock and loathe--that we must look for clues to his character.
In 1983, the editors of The Wheeler County History asked him to write about his family's founding of the town of Fossil, his boyhood home and the seat of the smallest, poorest county in Eastern Oregon. Bowerman chose to tell the story of his mother's grandfather, James Washington Chambers, who had grown up in Tennessee.
Along with his parents, Thomas and Letitia, and his four brothers and two sisters, J. W. Chambers lived at The Hermitage, the plantation near Nashville where General Andrew Jackson bred and trained racehorses. Irish- born Letitia Chambers was Jackson's cousin by marriage. The future president and his wife, Rachel, had no children of their own, but they took in family like laundry, turning out one starched, pressed relative after another. Bowerman bled for young J.W., subjected to such bark-bound, puritanical authority: "Being a very much younger brother in a family of Scotch-Irish," Bowerman wrote, "J.W. had plenty of opportunity to vent his rebellion."
In 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected the seventh American president and two years later signed into law the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Henry Clay rightly called the act an eternal stain on the nation's honor, but white settlers cheered and pushed greedily onto tribal lands. By the spring of 1832, the family member hungriest to go was fifteen-year-old J. W. Chambers.
"What took him," Bowerman asked, "on his quest for the new, the romantic, the dangerous, to what became the Oregon Territory?" Bowerman could only guess, but judging by the words he chose, he must have felt the answer in his bones: "A wild yearning for perfect freedom." One day, young J.W. just up and left, saying (as Bowerman loved to tell the tale), "I'm a-headin' West and just takin' ma pony."
The Chambers kid's way with horses found him a place among the voyageurs and trappers who mapped the great routes. Every so often a crumpled letter would get back to his family, describing the fish, game, and topsoil beyond the Rockies. Thomas Chambers who had wanted to cross the plains since he'd read Lewis and Clark's journals couldn't rid his dreams of the bounty his son described. By the early 1840s he had moved his family to Morgan County, Missouri, where they began assembling a wagon train.
In 1844, word of it reached the prodigal son. J.W., then twenty-seven, rode hell-for-leather to Missouri to lead the train, only to find a father who didn't exactly kill the fatted calf in welcome.
Bowerman put it this way: "As mountain men were wont to do when going to rendezvous, J. W. Chambers joined his buddies in a rip-roaring, trail's-end wingding. The head-of-clan Chambers, exercising Puritan logic, 'splained to J.W. that he was not fit enough nor mature enough to lead the train." To test J.W.'s fitness, Thomas asked whether his son's rebellious habits might accept something short of perfect freedom--namely, the settling influence of a wife. As Bowerman often told it, Thomas had someone specific in mind: "Meet the widow Scoggin," Thomas said. "And her five children. Husband died back East. Needs a man."
One can imagine the poleaxed J.W. taking a long look at the widow's fiercely bulging eye and hard-set jaw (she did look like Harry Truman) and growling, "By God, I'll do her." They married in 1844, and the Chambers wagon train departed on April 1, 1845, with J.W. riding scout beside his father. And J.W. did her well, for eight months and three weeks later, on the banks of the Willamette, Mary Greene Scoggin Chambers would give birth to Bill Bowerman's grandmother, Mary Jane.
But first they had to cross two-thirds of a continent. Half a million people traversed the Oregon Trail between 1842 and 1860, a number so vast as to suggest it wasn't all that hard. But it was bitterly hard. Men, women, children, animals, and wagons had to cover ten to fifteen miles a day for eight months or risk having a mountain pass named for them because they froze in it, like the Donners. One in ten died--50,000 in all--far more of them from cholera and accident than at the hands of Indians.
Almost all those who traveled the Oregon Trail were on the only trip of their lives. They'd sold their farms to outfit their wagons and teams. If they made it to the valley of the Willamette, a married couple was entitled to 640 acres, but meanwhile, that acreage existed only in the haze of carnival-barker promises. The land and friends they'd left behind were heartbreakingly real. It was, as one historian put it, "the experience of giving all to gain all."
It was a defining ordeal, a winnowing out of the nonindustrious, the nonen- during, the inflexible, the uncooperative. Those who completed the cross- country journey found that it concentrated traits in their new society that would last as long as the wagon tracks themselves, still plain to see today through the sage near Baker City in Eastern Oregon. If Bowerman was stubbornly ingenious, if Bowerman loved to tell a story, if Bowerman gloried in Oregon's vistas and fertility, well, Bowerman was pioneer stock and had a right to cackle, as he did, that "The cowards never started and the weak died along the way."
The 2,000-mile trek took the Chambers family seven months. On October 15, 1845, their train reached The Dalles, on the Columbia. They were less than a hundred miles from the mouth of the Willamette, but the way was blocked. The basalt cliffs where the Columbia Gorge slices through the Cascades north of Mt. Hood were impassable by wagon, and no flatboats were to be found. The family made their winter quarters about two miles from the Methodist Mission.
After they had built huts and corrals, Thomas Chambers led an advance party, including J.W. and his gravid wife, Mary, downriver by boat to find their promised land. They selected loamy pastures on the Tualatin River, a tributary of the Willamette, near what would become Hillsboro. They filed Donation Land Claim #41 at the new capital, Oregon City, and it was there, on December 22, 1845, that Mary Jane Chambers was born.
That winter, J.W. built the first flat-bottomed boat to make it through the Columbia rapids known as Cascade Falls and carried the families' wagons and belongings in a complicated series of ferryings and portages down the Columbia and up the Willamette to their 642-acre homestead on the Tualatin.
Western Oregon kept its promise. The grass stayed green all winter. The Chamberses were disoriented by the sight of their cows standing fat in the pastures in February. Once the weather cleared in June, the skies were cloudless until October. The Indians had used fire to keep much of the valley in grassland. The settlers' fields produced so much wheat it was soon being used as a means of exchange. They had given all. They had gained all. They were home.
Not that much peace crept upon the mind of J. W. Chambers.
In the Willamette Valley, the Chambers family had come to a place with California summers and English winters. The rivers coiling past mistletoe- clotted oaks and dark, befirred hills were swollen by five months of cold rain. The bone-chilling wet that drove Lewis and Clark to clinical depression on the Oregon coast did the same for J.W. He called the Tualatin area a "swamp" and often rode out looking to find better. Indeed, his father, Thomas, and several family members moved to Puget Sound in Washington.
But the "settling influence," as Bowerman put it, of J.W.'s wife and, eventually, seven children "partially took." For fifteen years, J.W. built warm, dry log homes and barns, helped his neighbors thresh their wheat, and reined in his wanderlust. He made a trip to the gold fields but didn't stay, returning home instead to raise and race his beloved horses. And he used the profits from the farm to order up a spectacular symbol of making it to the new land without sacrificing the refinement of the old: a grand piano for each of his daughters. "They were shipped around Cape Horn before the Panama Canal was built," wrote J.W.'s great-granddaughter Patricia Hoover Frank in 1983. "The girls learned to play them at school. Mary Jane played quite well and sang very well too. She often entertained overnight travelers or guests." (According to Barbara Bowerman, "There's a story that one of J.W.'s horses, named Foster, won $30,000 in a race. I don't know if that's apocryphal, but it would have financed the pianos and considerably more.")
In 1864, when Mary Jane was eighteen, she accepted the hand of Thomas Benton Hoover, who had been five when he traveled the Trail with his parents in 1844. A photograph from that time shows Mary Jane to be comely and clear-eyed. Many desired her, even to a deranging degree. "The first night in their own home, one of Mary Jane's former suitors set the cabin on fire," wrote Mary Jane's great-granddaughter, Georgia Lee Hoover Stiles. "Obviously they got out, for we are all here."
Barely. They lost all their belongings--except for the piano, which Tom and Mary Jane somehow managed to drag from the cabin to safety.
By 1869, the Hoovers had two children, Annie and Will. One day J.W., whom they hadn't seen in a year, burst in and shouted, "Finally, finally, Eden is at hand!" They had heard this before.
"Horses were J.W.'s life and cattle his cash reward," wrote Bowerman. "His restless spirit was always taking him back across the Cascades." On this trip he'd explored the canyons of a river flowing out of the Blue Mountains. The river was named the John Day, for a hapless man who had been captured and tortured by Indians, escaping with his life but without his sanity.
It was a cautionary tale, but one totally lost on the old mountain man J.W., now in his early fifties. He rode up the John Day with an Indian friend in 1868, returned in 1869, convened a family council, and said he'd seen over a million acres of rich, black loam and rolling hills. There were lush meadows, virgin timber, abundant springs and creeks. Bowerman liked the line in J.W.'s report that made for an equine heaven: "Shoulder-high in meadow grass, knee-high in bunch grass." Bunch grass endures after meadow hay has frozen. If your hills have clumpy, silvery bunch grass, your stock can last out any winter.
J.W. had surveyed some ranch-sized claims and ridden for home. Now he asked, who would come across and live with him in a land of milk and honey? The look upon the face of his wife, the formidable Mary Greene Scoggin Chambers, is lost to history, but her reaction isn't: She declined the invitation. "His wife," as Bowerman put it, "figured winning one wilderness home was enough."
But J.W. talked his daughter Mary Jane, her husband, Tom, stepson Woodson Scoggin, and horse-raising partner William Bigham into joining him in peopling the spreads he'd claimed.
Their 1870 trek, with covered wagons and livestock, first by boat to The Dalles and then into the interior on Indian trails, took almost three months, lengthened by their lugging along Mary Jane's piano. One wonders, as Bowerman did about J.W. fleeing westward at age fifteen, what made Mary Jane at twenty-four, her children four and two, so uproot her life. If their Tualatin farm was prosperous, it was also by then routine. The family yearning for freedom must have surged in her, too. She was her father's daughter.
They arrived at a crystal stream in a bowl of greening, juniper-dotted hills on April 26, 1870, named it Hoover Creek, and quickly built four log cabins with floors of whipsawed planks. They turned their animals out into the meadows and planted cottonwoods. From a white cliff, they cut slabs of soft rock that hardened in the air and let them make a fireplace in every dwelling. The mud-caulked cabins (all but one with openings for rifle barrels in case of an Indian attack that never came) were snug, durable, and had room for the piano.
J.W. wrote in his diary, "This is truly the promised land."
Sometimes the price of perfect freedom is perfect isolation. Mary Jane wouldn't see another woman settler for two years. When a husband and wife driving their hogs to market sought refuge at Hoover Creek, Stiles continued, "The two women on seeing each other broke down and cried, as they were so starved for friendship. They stayed up all night talking."
Tom Hoover petitioned for and won a road from The Dalles and settlers filtered in. In 1876, Tom and Mary Jane were sworn in as the area's first postmaster and -mistress and opened an office on their ranch. But what to call it? In their choice, they linked their lonely outpost with concerns greater than bunch grass and hogs. They seem, now and forever, thoroughly modern.
Not long after they had settled in, they'd heard a rumbling and had run out to see dust rising from the base of a ridge. Tom rode over and found that a landslide had exposed large bones that looked like nothing he'd ever seen. He sent word to a friend, Thomas Condon, who was becoming an eminent geologist. Condon came, looked, was stumped, and packed some off to New York. Eventually the bones proved to be ossified camels and elephants from the Tertiary period, some 60 million years before. Fascinated by the petrified remains and cutting-edge science, the Hoovers named their post office, and later the town, Fossil.
The connection with Condon was possible because the Chamberses and Hoovers honored learning in a way unusual in such a speck of a frontier town. Each generation of Fossil families sent many of its young away to good colleges. After seeing the wider world, a healthy number returned to keep the ranches thriving. Much of the land today remains in the hands of the original families.
Was J. W. Chambers, the cause of all the uprooting, satisfied with his new life? It's hard to know. A photo of J.W. in his thirties shows an unfurrowed brow and a coarse, dark beard that can't obscure eyes and mouth brimming with wit. In another image, taken some twenty years later, the beard is white-streaked, the mouth rigid, and the eyes squint beneath a ridge of worry. The photos seem to be of different men.
Table of Contents
Men of Oregon 1
That Wild Yearning 9
Lizzie and the Governor 17
Wild Bill Meets a Mule Skinner 25
The University of Oregon 41
Bill Hayward 49
The Tenth Mountain Division 68
First Principles 82
A Friend, a Son, a Community 98
A Dynasty Begins 105
The 1962 Season 131
The AAU Dictatorship 140
The Birth of BRS 156
A curious Mind 181
Rites of Passage 187
Lessons Inserted 203
Mexico City 214
Enter, Prefontaine 234
BRS Become Nike 257
Transit and Sorrow 305
Immortal Messages 399
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Well-written and researched, this biography paints virtually every facet of Bill Bowerman's life and character across a canvas as broad as the Western skyline. From Bill's adventurous ancestors' settlement in Oregon, to his fatherless upbringing, to his high school sports and military successes, to his coaching, and finally to his entrepreneurial undertakings as a Nike founder, the narrative progresses in a logical, well-organized fashion. Even knowing that Kenny Moore, as one of Bill's unwavering supporters over the years, must have skewed this character study a bit toward the positive, I turned the last page convinced that Bill Bowerman was a multi-talented man of high principle and inquisitive Promethean temperament, who left the sport much better than he found it. Moore is at his finest when describing training techniques and track performances and when discussing, from his insider's vantage point, Bill's early running shoe prototypes and his relationships with the many talented athletes who ran at Oregon. As a fourth-place Olympic finisher in the same Munich Games where Pre faltered down the home stretch, Moore also did a wonderful job of illustrating how an untimely illness, a poor race plan, or other unfortunate circumstances denied many great champions the elusive Olympic medals by which athletic success is too often measured. Some of the material is slow-going and somewhat dense in factual detail, however, and a disciplined editor could probably have pared it down by fifty pages or more. In particular, I wished that less text was spent on Bill's ancestors and family, his involvement in World War II and the struggles with Track & Field's governing bodies. That said, I can understand why Moore might have felt compelled to err on the side of over-inclusion when taking on the weighty responsibility of memorializing the life of his beloved coach. -Kevin Joseph, author of "The Champion Maker"
Excellent biography of a complex man who not only coached Olympic track champions at the University of Oregon, but also helped one of his runners, Phil Knight, found the sports giant Nike. Traces his life from hard scrabble roots during the Great Depression, to college, WW II, through his coaching career at Oregon and the Olympics and his role in founding NIKE.Written by one of his former athletes, sports writer Kenny Moore, Moore tries to separate fact and myth about the man and for the most part succeeds. Good overall narrative, but for the general reader the book bogs down in middle with too much detail about specific track races and times. A good editor might eliminated some of the details. Still a fascinating read!
Once you get into the meat of this book it is really enjoyable. Bill Bowerman. One of the most well known coaches in the track and field world. While playing football at the University of Oregon Bill Bowerman became friends with Bill Hayward head track coach of Oregon. As they grew closer Bowerman got more and more into track. When Hayward retired he handed the job over to Bowerman. Bower man was a strict, but good track coach. During his 24 years as head coach at the University of Oregon he won 4 national team titles. Athletes he trained set 13 world, and 22 American records. On a trip to Europe Bowerman understood how much they cared about track in Europe. Bowerman wanted the US to start becoming more serious about track. He started with his town of Eugene, now known as Track Town USA. Bowerman also brought back with his a fitness technique that very few in America had tried before. Jogging. Bill Bowerman started a boom known as the jogging boom. During the time nearly every American was taking a nightly jog. Bowerman was not happy with the high prices of Adidas, which had no big competitor at the time. To try to stop this Bowerman and his close acquaintances in the running field decided to try to make their own brand of running shoes that would be the same quality at a much lower price. This brand became known as Nike. Bill was always spending time in his garage trying to create new prototypes of running shoes. His greatest contribution was the waffle-sole. These soles are still used today in all modern running shoes. I would recommend this book to anyone who is into running books, or any type of sports history books. This book defiantly captures and shows the full extraordinary life of Bill Bowerman.
I loved this book, which took me inside the world of American track at the highest level. I am grateful to Kenny Moore for the immense work he did in researching, arranging, and presenting this inspiring material. Moore does what any masterful writer would do: he presents the story accurately, without gushing - and the effect is moving, funny, and inspiring.
Well-written and researched, this biography paints virtually every facet of Bill Bowerman's life and character across a canvas as broad as the Western skyline. From Bill's adventurous ancestors' settlement in Oregon, to his fatherless upbringing, to his high school sports and military successes, to his coaching, and finally to his entrepreneurial undertakings as a Nike founder, the narrative progresses in a logical, well-organized fashion. Even knowing that Kenny Moore, as one of Bill's unwavering supporters over the years, must have skewed this character study a bit toward the positive, I turned the last page convinced that Bill Bowerman was a multi-talented man of high principle and inquisitive Promethean temperament, who left the sport much better than he found it. Moore is at his finest when describing training techniques and track performances and when discussing, from his insider's vantage point, Bill's early running shoe prototypes and his relationships with the many talented athletes who ran at Oregon. As a fourth-place Olympic finisher in the same Munich Games where Pre faltered down the home stretch, Moore also did a wonderful job of illustrating how an untimely illness, a poor race plan, or other unfortunate circumstances denied many great champions the elusive Olympic medals by which athletic success is too often measured. Some of the material is slow-going and somewhat dense in factual detail, however, and a disciplined editor could probably have pared it down by fifty pages or more. In particular, I wished that less text was spent on Bill's ancestors and families, his involvement in World War II and the struggles with Track & Field's governing bodies. That said, I can understand why Moore might have felt compelled to err on the side of over-inclusion when taking on the weighty responsibility of memorializing the life of his beloved coach.
I've read it (in advance of release -- Phil Knight's forward was neatly razor-bladed out of the copy in accordance with the Playboy deal), and I think Kenny Moore manages to capture much of the powerful spirit of Bowerman and his times. He also provides an insider's and sound researcher's level of detail. Unfortunately the organization and writing/editing (if there _was_ significant editing) made for a sometimes-tedious read. I say tedious even though I have a huge interest in the subject -- having grown up an hour from Eugene during the Bowerman era and just beyond. I'm not really keen on the ending either, and not convinced the preceding 416 pages lead naturally to that. I've always loved Kenny Moore's writing for Sports Illustrated, and have deep affection for Oregon and running my inclination is to want to say the book is great alas, I cannot.