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Running Historian Walt Chadwick Speaks About His History with Nike

Nike Green Mountain Running Camp's very own staff coach Walt Chadwick speaks with former SMRC camper and staff member A.J. Rickett about his days working for Nike and the history of the Nike brand that took the running world by storm. 

Interview transcript:

AJ: Walt Chadwick spent years with Nike product development. A man who helped design and build the brand to what it has become today. Now an assistant coach, helping out at Colby Sawyer College. Perhaps few people who can articulate the history of the company and the people behind it like Walt. When you look back on the years you spent with Nike, and the time you spent with the company and the people, are there any moments or memories that stand out right away for you?

Walt: There are quite a few, but I think especially for me, was being a high school coach going to a meet and meeting Jeff Johnson, Nike’s first employee after Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight started the company. Jeff was coaching Exeter high school girls and I was coaching Cochran high school girls as an assistant to my head coach, Bill Ludy, who is a legend up here. And I recognized Jeff from his photo, so I asked him if I could buy a photo from him. He sent me about ten of them free, and we started a friendship and eventually he asked me to go to work for Nike in Exeter NH and that changed my life quite a bit. So, it was good fun.

AJ: Now, Nike a billion dollar industry, obviously represented in every sport. But Walt, it all began with the search for the perfect running shoe. And that drove people like Jeff Johnson and Phil Knight, the founders of Nike, I’m sure you could speak to it drove them every single day.

Walt: Yeah! It was pretty interesting. I remember buying my first Nike’s were probably Nike Cortez or Nike Finland’s or Kenyas … Finland blues and Kenya reds … they were a nylon version that was close to the Cortez. And then eventually, the best shoe that I liked early on was the Waffle Trainer, so those were pretty interesting times. That was the mid 70’s, just to put a date on that.

AJ: Walt, the spirit of Steve Prefontaine. That drive. The boldness of people like Pre. It really permeates itself throughout Nike and even at its cross country camps. When you work at Nike running camps like Green Mountain in New Hampshire every year, what goes through your mind when you see how that spirit still resonates with so many campers, counselors and coaches to this day?

Walt: It’s really interesting, AJ. I don’t think immediately of Pre, but the spirit the runners have and the counselors and coaches that bring to the camp, they’re probably the long-term effect of Pre’s competitive spirit and his demand for excellence when he was competing. It’s really interesting, in the last fifteen years, I’ve met a number of people who knew Pre intimately. People like Jon Anderson, the 1973 Boston Marathon winner. He was also on the ’72 Olympic team.

People like Jeff Johnson, who knew him fairly well. I’ve spoken at a very brief time with Phil Knight about Pre. The late Geoff Hollister I knew pretty well. He of course was really close to Pre. And the common thread between all these people is the demand for personal excellence, which would bring a better product to the market. In the early days, we were one-hundred percent about making a really great product. And that’s not to say that people today aren’t, but we were runners first, and business people second. I think that was Pre’s influence on Nike’s product and the people around him and what they wanted to do early on.

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