EUGENE, Ore. — They come from all over — Illinois, Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Minnesota — to give a gift to a man they never met.
“People obviously leave many things here,” said Bethanne Goldman as she gestured to the different knickknacks surrounding the plaque at Pre’s Rock.
“We left a brochure up here, just for the significance of what we do and what he did,” said Joe Bails, another visitor to the running legend’s memorial.
This hodgepodge of people — all ages, runners and non-runners — just want to see the place where Steve Prefontaine died. On May 30, 1975, he crashed his car on this corner near Hendrick’s Park.
“I think it’s bittersweet because it’s a memorial to Pre,” Goldman said. “It’s sort of sad.”
“You get happy that you get to be here,” said Boston resident Peter Jusseaume. “But at the same time, you realize you’re looking at a place where one of America’s greatest runners had a fatal accident.”
Fans like Jusseaume, Goldman and Seattle’s Kevin Cole made the trek to Eugene for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. But they came to Pre’s Rock for an experience you can’t get at Hayward Field.
“I think his spirit lives on as does the spirit of track and field. You feel like running is really real here,” said Cole. “The place has a mythology, right? I knew about that, but … man, it is alive and you can feel it. You can feel his spirit.”
That spirit is what draws the crowds up the windy roads of the Fairmount neighborhood. Fans want a picture with their idol, a chat with fellow fans and a moment to thank the man who — for them — changed running forever.
“Pre is definitely a legend and a big inspiration for both of us,” said Lauren Friese, who visited the site with her father, sister and brother. “[My sister and I are] both runners back home. We just always kind of looked up to him.”
“He was definitely a hero and an inspiration,” Cole said, just before leaving his own memento: a CD from KEXP radio, where he’s the program director. “I just loved his dedication and his spirit, his artfulness, his commitment to running and the individualism that he had.”