Those who watched the movies or read the books about running legend Steve Prefontaine know the stories about his time at the University of Oregon.
They’ve heard about how he and his teammates ran in Bill Bowerman’s homemade racing shoes — the ones Bowerman made with his wife’s waffle iron. They’ve read about Pre’s intensity.
While those who grew up idolizing the gutsy runner have heard the stories, Terry Williams lived them.
The Vancouver man — who is now Dr. Terry Williams — ran alongside and shared hotel rooms with Prefontaine during his final year at the University of Oregon in 1973.
And after nearly four decades, Williams will be honored for his accomplishments during that year in Eugene and the three that followed.
Williams, 57, and his teammates on the 1973 and 1974 cross country teams, along with the members of the 1971 team, will be inducted into the University of Oregon’s Athletic Hall of Fame next month. In May, Williams was inducted into the hall of fame in his hometown in northern Santa Barbara County, Calif.
Williams’ running dominance started early. As a seventh-grader, Williams ran a mile in 5:25. By the time he was an eighth-grader, his time was down to 5:05. As a ninth-grader, he joined his high school cross country and track teams. He kept getting faster.
“It was always about the team,” Williams said. “It was never about me.”
Williams’ Lompoc High School cross country team won four league and regional titles. As an individual, Williams won state championships his sophomore and senior years. In track, Williams was part of a five-man, 10-mile relay that set a national record his junior year.
Williams’ success wasn’t limited to the dirt track. In the classroom, Williams mastered his studies and earned the class valedictorian honor when he graduated in 1973.
In the fall of ’73, Williams enrolled at the University of Oregon and joined the school’s cross country team.
“Some people went to Oregon to be near Pre,” Williams said. “I went to Oregon to do well.”
And he did.
His freshman year, Williams, Prefontaine and the rest of the Ducks team won the Pac-8 championship. They went on to stun teams across the country by winning the NCAA championships. Prefontaine won the meet and Williams, as a freshman, placed 22nd in the country.
“We knew we were good,” Williams said, “but I don’t think you expect to win an NCAA championship.”
During Williams’ sophomore year, the team repeated as Pac-8 and NCAA champions, this time without Prefontaine. That year, Williams placed sixth in the country.
In 1975, as a junior, Williams finished fourth in the nationals but the team finished in a disappointing 11th place.
“It was one of my biggest disappointments in my running career,” Williams said.
During his final year as a Duck, Williams’ team finished second in the NCAA championships. He placed 16th as an individual. That final cross country performance earned him his fourth All American title, an honor bestowed on the top 25 finishers in the national meet. Williams was the University of Oregon’s second four-time All American. The first was Prefontaine.
Williams didn’t have the same love for, or success in, track. By springtime, Williams was worn out from his grueling class schedule and practicing year-round. He often found himself racing from one commitment to the other. His honors chemistry class ended at 2:30 p.m., but Pre started practice at 2:30 p.m.
“That was the challenge,” Williams said, “putting sports and academics together.”
“It’s tough to achieve greatness in athletics and academics,” he added.
But Williams did.
He graduated from the University of Oregon in 1978 with degrees in biology and math. He went to medical school at Oregon Health & Science University from 1978 to 1982, and then performed his residency at various hospitals from 1982 to 1985.
One month after finishing his residency, Williams was hired with the Family Physicians Group in Vancouver. He stayed there for three years before joining Kaiser Permanente in 1988. Today, he works in family medicine at Kaiser’s Orchards medical office.
Throughout his medical training and in the years that have followed, Williams continued to run. But while running will always be a part of Williams’ life — he still runs six miles a day — his passion is, and has been for many years, medicine.
“This is all out of my life,” Williams said as he looked at photo of him running with Prefontaine. “It’s been all medicine since 1985.”
“The medical side is the part I’m most proud of.”