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February 17, 2012

Nike Running Campers!  Who will be next to meet the Pre Challenge?

Geoff Hollister Nike 00

Geoff Hollister, Nike's third employee, served many different roles during his career.  One of his more unusual ones took place about 15 years ago when Nike sent Geoff to Hollywood to be a "loaned-executive" to Disney Studios for their movie about Steve Prefontaine.  Geoff, a former University of Oregon steeplechaser under legendary coach Bill Bowerman, was responsible for signing Prefontaine to a contract as Nike’s marketing manager so Pre could wear Nike spikes and promote the brand without losing his amateur status. 

To get the cast into the right spirit, Geoff thought it would be helpful if Nike gave each actor a mock-up of a U of Oregon letter jacket with some extra "Pre" designs that he added.   It had numerals of the year of Pre's death on the sleeve and his favorite motivational quote "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice your gift." embroidered on the inside left front.

After Geoff returned to the Nike campus from his Hollywood, his next project was  to resurrect Nike's support of grass roots running.  Nike had been sponsoring our Smoky Mountain and Green Mountain Running Camps for high school runners for many years, but lately support of this type of grass roots activity had been badly neglected. 

It turned out that Geoff had one Pre letter jacket left over from the movie project.  He decided to donate it to the RRCA annual national convention which we were both attending that year in Colorado Springs.  The RRCA, another great grass roots running organization, was going to auction off the letter jacket at their awards dinner to raise money for their new Roads Scholars program.

Earlier that day of the dinner, Geoff and I had spent a couple of hours discussing Nike's renewed, and now very substantial, commitment to our camps.   A few hours later at the awards banquet, I realized that it might be a real good idea if Geoff saw me involved in some spirited bidding for the jacket. 

Well it just so happened that the auctioneer was RRCA president Don Kardong, a close friend of Geoff's, and a long time Nike elite runner with a 4th place finish in the Montreal Olympics marathon.  My connections with Don went back to the early 70's when I was coaching at the U of Florida and administering the Florida Track Club that had provided him with competition from Jack Bacheler, Jeff Galloway and Frank Shorter.  After Nike had sent Don to be a featured speaker at our camps, we had become good friends.

Unfortunately for me, when Don saw that it was me involved in the bidding, joker that he is, he kept encouraging everyone else to keep raising the ante.  I finally won the auction, but Kardong had run the price up to $500!!  As I looked over at Geoff, I saw him laughing and giving Kardong a thumbs up. 

But now I had to figure out what kind of story to tell my wife when I came home wearing a $500 University of Oregon letter jacket.

In a flash of inspiration, I decided to use it as a motional prize that I would award to the next one of our male campers who bettered Pre's high school PR's in either the mile and 2 mile, or equivalent records for females.  Winning the jacket would therefore require times of 4:06 and 8:41 or 4:47 or 9:48, respectively.  Pictured below is the runner who won the first jacket with a time of 4:04.76 at the national high school outdoor championships in Raleigh, NC June 1999.   

It took several years of urging campers to set their sights on the letter jacket and to meet the Pre Challenge. But, in one of life's better ironies, I got to award the first jacket to my very own runner, Brendon Mahoney, from Marist School in Atlanta where I was serving as a Community Coach 1999. 

The Pre Challenge has worked, thanks to Geoff.  With the help of Nike tech reps and salesmen, we have been able to find four other Pre jackets.  Gavin Coombs, Ben Hubers and Jackie Areson have each met the challenge as high school campers. 

Fortunately, there is one more Pre jacket left in our possession.  Who will Pre and Hollister challenge next???

By  Coach Roy Benson, Director of the Smoky and Green Mountain Running Camps

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