Math and Business Alum Pens Book on Life with Nike and Prefontaine

In November 1974, University of Oregon distance runner Steve Bence convinced the legendary Steve Prefontaine, his former teammate and close friend, to run in an outlandish event: the “Great Race.” The race was an annual UO-Oregon State University fundraiser for muscular dystrophy during which students from each school ran a relay race from Eugene to Corvallis over two days. 

Bence promised the recently graduated Prefontaine the race would be a cakewalk, with “just a bunch of [OSU] frat guys” to beat in the final one-mile leg, which ended in Parker Stadium at halftime of the Ducks-Beavers football game. Instead, Pre found himself chasing one of the Beavers’ top milers, who had a 15-second lead. Pre won by two seconds. 

Such insider tales populate 1972: Pre, UO Track, Nike Shoes, and My Life with Them All, which first-time author Bence, BA ’75 (mathematics), MBA ’91 (general business), published in August. In the book, he reminisces about his time as an All-American alongside Pre under coach Bill Bowerman. He also shares manufacturing stories from the early years at Nike, where Bence has worked for four decades in footwear sourcing. 

Once a nationally ranked 800-meter runner, Bence enlisted another coach to help him carry the book from concept to execution and across the finish line: author and friend Bob Welch, BS ’76 (journalism), who served as editor. 

“I knew I couldn’t be a writer without a good coach, and Bob was instrumental in helping me,” Bence says. “This was really hard—writing about Pre’s death, my own father’s death, all these experiences at the UO and Nike, the emotions just came out. It was technically hard, physically hard, and emotionally hard. It’s almost like therapy.” 

—By Matt Cooper, Oregon Quarterly

—Photo by Marina Koslow