Hi. Bob Penny here, South Eugene class of '78. Just found this forum today. Been thinking a lot about Bill recently for some reason. Really great to see all your comments Steve (Bolt!). I guess I'm responding to a number of posts here, to fill in some stories of my own and such, especially about Billy in HS.
Billy and I were very good friends and teammates in HS and at Oregon briefly. Such an amazing and vital individual with the most graceful stride you have ever seen. And a great practical joker too. In HS we each would often wander into the weight room for a little upper body work after running. Once Billy bet someone in the weight room ten bucks that he could do 100 sit ups on the incline board placed on the highest rung with a 5 pound weight behind his head. It was an easy ten bucks because that was part of Billy's regular daily wo.
Another time in HS I went out for a long run with Bill and Seth Brown. It was a longer run day, meaning maybe 8 miles was prescribed for me, a few more for them, but I thought I'd tag along. We got going and finally decided we'd go up around Spencer's Butte - 11 miles. There's a long hard 3 mile uphill and I got to feeling sluggish early so Billy offered me the hem of his t-shirt and I grabbed it and he "towed" me all the way up the hill. I got into a groove finally, we stopped at Bill's house for juice, and then did another 11 out the Lane CC and through campus - 22 miles, way farther than I ever went before or since - but Billy kept it fun the whole way, a great run.
I had the lucky privilage to share the baton with Billy on a HS NR record DM relay team. I went out way too fast on my half mile leg and had to hang on to give the handoff - we almost went out of the zone and I face-planted after the exchange. But the whole way down the stretch the mantra in my head was "just get it to Bill, just get it to Bill." I think everyone felt the record was a cinch if Bill could get the handoff in good time, even if that meant he had to run a solo 4:10 with backstretch winds. We all had supreme confidence in BIll and he always carried our trust foremost when he ran. He was a true team player.
I roomed with Bill and Steve my freshman first semester at Oregon - a bit of a wild and crazy time. It was known as "the Olympic House" and I remember quite a few parties. Someone mentioned the "doom and gloom" workouts - I remember it that way too. Oregon seemed to get a ton of walkons gunning for a spot - maybe 30 guys at the workouts and you certainly didn't know everyone. School got in the way of running for a while, and then I transfered to UofA and ran there with other Axeman Jeff Hess, Dirk Lakeman, and Randy Redditt. I fell out of touch with Bill some then.
I saw Billy for the last time at his wedding. I got into town and found him at The Pad the night before. We sat and talked about his faith and his desire to do the right things in life, for himself and mostly for Nancy. Billy had a way of looking you in the eye directly, and he would take your hand in his if what you were sharing was important. He could be a total goofball, but also the most sincere person you ever knew.
I'll always remember his race at the '80 trials as the most exciting thing I ever saw in my life - and I saw almost every race Pre ran in Eugene. I was with Jim Payne that day (another dear friend and HS teammate of mine, Bill's, and many others who is gone from us too soon). We screamed and were completely hysterical, leaning over the east grandstand and pounding on the side of it with our fists - could not believe what we were seeing. Anyone who knew Bill well knew how he looked when it was ALL laid out and he had little more to give, and he looked that way with 250 meters to go and he somehow held on.
Someone wondered about how Bill came to be so good so young. Well, everything said was true. But in addition it has often been mentioned that Jerry Andrews at Spencer Butte JH had a great hand in fostering Bills talent. And our HS coach Harry Johnson was, in my opinion, one of the best coaches this country has ever had at any level of competition. Besides all the championships and the star athletes, he also put almost 25 guys under 5:00 in the mile each year at South. We were also fortunate during "76, Bill's junior year, to have Mark Feig, Scott Daggett, and Paul Geis training with our HS team in prep for the Olympic trials. Daggett especially, as I guess he had when he ran with Pre, would crank out amazing workouts. I remember marvelling at a number of 10 and 12 mile control runs Billy and Daggett did at 5:00-5:05 pace, in wind and rain, head to head just hammering those last miles. It was unreal to see a highschooler doing that kind of work.
Someone also wanted to know about the finish photo of Bill and Dirk. That was district meet, '77, their senior year, dead heat in 4:08 - I think the win was given to Dirk. Billy had a number of close duels at one mile like that that year with Dirk, and the previous year with teammate John Gustufson. But Billy was always stepping down to their distance - those guys couldn't touch him at two miles or above. I have a copy of that article from the Guard. It was a tremendous race - they were trying to break Mark Fieg's state HS mile record of 4:05.1. It came down to the final stretch, and Dirk took Billy out to lane three, then dove and knocked himself out cold on the track, the finish tape pinned underneath him. I was getting a rubdown high up in the Springfield High stands from Jay Hiedenriech (the "kid", 6'6" discus thrower who had jumped on Billy's achilles playing pickup basketball) at the moment it happened and Jay had to physically restrain me from jumping up right there and running down there. Dirk later, post season, ran the fastest HS mile that year in the country - 4:04.7 I think, and broke Fieg's record.
Sometimes I wonder what Billy might be doing now if he were still with us. He passed away while making a completely optional side trip just to cheer on some HS kids he had become close with. We all learned that kind of thing first hand from Pre, who also made himself available to others that way. Pre was a volunteer at my JH at the time he died just up the hill from my house- I was in 9th grade and Bill was in 10th. It was an amazing thing growing up in Eugene at that time - so many stories and things that happened.
Well, this has been long. But I hope others have enjoyed what I've shared. Also hope to keep connected with you, Steve - so good to hear your words here. Billy was an amazing runner, and I know everyone who had the chance to see his tenacity and drive as a competitor, or who knew him as a friend knew he was something special. And Tom, who I knew only slightly, always impressed me with his kindness. There is that quote from Pre where he said that, for him, running a race was a creative act. Billy once told me about that quote that he felt exactly the same way, and anyone who saw him run knew what he meant.