Teaching Students About Steve Prefontaine

Steve Prefontaine, one of the most inspiring figures in American distance running history, continues to be an embodiment of resilience and determination. For students of all ages, understanding and learning from the life and times of Steve Prefontaine can be a profound lesson in perseverance, ambition, and courage. This article delves into the legacy of this remarkable athlete, and how instructors can incorporate discussions about him into their curriculum.

The Making of A Legend: Steve Prefontaine’s Early Life

Born on January 25, 1951, in Coos Bay, Oregon, Steve Prefontaine was passionate about sports from a young age. He initially explored the world of athletics participating in football and basketball before finding his true passion in running. Informing students about his earlier interests can help them understand that it is never too late or too early to follow their dreams.

Prefontaine quickly realized that he had a natural talent for distance running. While at Marshfield High School, he caught the attention of coaches for consistently breaking records and displaying exceptional potential. His accomplishments include broken high school records in multiple events such as the mile, two-mile, and three-mile races.

Making Waves on College & International Scene

Instructors can focus on how Prefontaine’s collegiate career began with his enrolment at the University of Oregon. By discussing his training under famed coach Bill Bowerman – co-founder of Nike – students can learn about both individuals’ impact on modern distance running and athletic footwear.

During college years, Prefontaine brought pride to his university by winning multiple NCAA titles and setting national college records in various distance events. Teachers may emphasize his outstanding achievements as being crucial steps towards international athletic recognition.

Never one to be complacent, Prefontaine set his sights on representing America at the Olympics. Despite falling short of winning medals at 1972 Munich Olympics, he used this experience as a motivation to exceed expectations in his future races. Discussing this aspect of Prefontaine’s drive encourages students to learn from setbacks and use them as stepping stones towards success.

Creating A Lasting Legacy

Tragically, Prefontaine’s life was cut short at 24 years old by a fatal car accident, leaving in question what other great feats he could have accomplished. Even though his athletic career was short-lived, Steve Prefontaine left an indelible mark on the world of distance running. He was instrumental in igniting the running boom in the US throughout the 1970s and left a legacy of passion and dedication that remains till this day.

Bringing the Legend into the Classroom

There are different ways instructors can introduce students to the story of Steve Prefontaine. Some teaching approaches include:

1. Showing documentaries and films: “Fire on the Track,” “Without Limits” or “Prefontaine” provide a glimpse into his life.

2. Encouraging book reports or investigations into biographies such as “Pre: The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine” by Tom Jordan.

3. Hosting debates or discussions related to his impact on American sports culture.

4. Comparing and contrasting famous athletes from various disciplines, exemplifying resilience and stubborn determination.


Steve Prefontaine’s tragic yet inspiring story demonstrates how someone can leave an everlasting impact within a short period. By bringing discussion about him into the classroom, students can learn valuable lessons about hard work, overcoming obstacles, and chasing their dreams with undying passion – just like Prefontaine did throughout his remarkable, albeit short-lived, athletic career.

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