Book Review: Bowerman and The Men of Oregon by Kenny Moore

My uncle passed away yesterday. It was tragic, too soon, and unfair. He was a good man who lived a good life — and I, my wife, and my boys will celebrate him as such.

It’s moments like this that remind you how ephemeral life is. You cannot waste time because you don’t know how much you have left — but, it is certain that number is finite.

I like reading books. I liked reading books about running. And, I like writing about these books because I think people should read them. Not only because they recount stories of running, but also because they impart lessons for how to live life.

BOWERMAN AND THE MEN OF OREGON by Kenny Moore is one such book. At its surface, the book is the story of the University of Oregon’s legendary Track & Field Coach and Nike’s (yes, that Nike®) co-founder. At its core, however, this book illustrates a model for how to live life.

At +400 pages, BOWERMAN is a seemingly daunting read that somehow floats by once you get going — almost like a great middle distance runner. The book is filled with captivating stories – some that seem hard to believe that one man could have been involved in them all. Some of my favorites include:

  • Early Years: The book devotes several chapters to the early coaching years of Bill Bowerman at smaller educational institutes. It’s here that you begin seeing Bill’s character and philosophy materialize. It’s also here that Bill’s life takes a detour when he serves in World War II. His experience in war and as a leader are both somber and somewhat hilarious with the benefit of hindsight  (noteworthy the story of demanding the surrender of the Italian army in person).
  • 1972 Munich Olympic Games: The infamous Olympic games where Israeli athletes were taken hostage and sadly murdered by a faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Bill Bowerman was there as the USA Head Coach and, in my interpretation, saved the lives of his American athletes when the Olympic Village was raided. Read the book and see if you reach the same conclusion.
  • Pre – One of the world’s most memorable middle distance runners. This book offers rare accounts of what it was like to coach and raise Steve Prefontaine in his era of PR crushing performances followed by his untimely death.
  • Bill Hayward – The man for whom the University of Oregon’s track is named. Prior to this book, I never fully appreciated that the legacy of Bill Hayward extended beyond his own accomplishments to the legion of men he coached and mentored to do extraordinary things on their own. Read about the man, who arguably, plucked and started Bill Bowerman on his journey in life.
  • Lasting Legacy – Bowerman was an excellent coach who built men on and OFF the track. Many of his athletes achieved their greatest accomplishments after running for Bowerman — becoming accomplished lawyers, accountants, public servants, and businessmen (beyond Phil Knight the other co-found of Nike). Bill’s ability to see that life extended beyond running and college was a great gift to his athletes.
  • Quarks – Bowerman was an inventor and tinkerer. Perhaps not the image of your typical High School or College Track Coach. Aside from experimenting with running shoes, Bill genetically bred chickens, practiced international diplomacy, drew architecture plans, innovated track surfaces, and was an accomplished non-profit fundraiser. A modern day Benjamin Franklin! Bill is proof that a life can be full, interesting, and varied — a true Renaissance man. Indeed, it turns out that the name Bowerman means BUILDERMAN.

In short, Bill was a man that put himself into the arena of life. As a result, he experienced life and was constantly in the center of action. And this perhaps is my biggest takeaway from the book and the life of Bill Bowerman:

Do Something. Do it to the best of your ability. Then, encourage others to do it better. When it’s over, do something else. Do more. Do you.

Or, more succinctly: JUST DO IT.

Take the time, read the book. I’d encourage you not to read the book as a lesson on how the empire of Nike was built. There are other books for that. Instead, read the book as a lesson on how to build yourself into your best version. Who knows, you might just make your own empire in the process.

See you at the Finish Line,

-George

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