New Memoir from a Founding Father

frankFrank Shorter’s My Marathon: Reflections on a Gold Medal Life was published in August to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of his silver medal in the marathon at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. That this book’s publication would commemorate Shorter’s second-place finish that year rather than his gold medal performance in Munich four years earlier may seem odd, since the Canadian Olympics were where Shorter was lost his battle for the gold to an East German athlete who he suspected and later proved to be a drug cheat. Yet it’s entirely fitting for this autobiography, which accentuates the negative over the positive as it jogs its way through his life story.

Shorter’s victory in 1972 is widely accepted as one of the catalysts of the running boom of the mid-seventies. One gets the sense that after a lifetime as a motivational speaker, this Founding Father is burned out on playing this starring role and communicating an inspirational message to his fans. In these pages, he is content to relate the story of his rise to running glory in sturdy, straightforward fashion, no bells or whistles.

His real focus here is to come to terms with the dark secret to his life story, the abuse he and his siblings suffered at the hands of their father, and all the ways that abuse has had a painful, never-ending impact on his career and life..

Shorter wrestles with his decision not to go public about this abuse until the last decade or so, hix revelations that culminated in a confessional profile by his co-author John Brant published in 2011 by Runners World.

Although the impact of his childhood of abuse is the recurring theme that weaves in and out of these pages, Shorter’s account also seems drawn to emphasizing other dark aspects of his life story as well, such as he being the last friend to see Steve Prefontaine on the night of his death, his role as dispassionate witness to the Munich Olympic’s infamous Black September terrorist act that unfolded a hundred meters from his Olympic Village balcony, and even his first act as a Nike-sponsored athlete when he discovered a half-hour before the starting gun that the custom-made shoes he was supposed to wear had come unglued and endangered his chances of even making it to the starting line.

The book feels sturdy, honest, and brave, even if it doesn’t convey any special sense of joyfulness in his achievements, or any sense of humor about the ups and downs of his life story. The end result is that the book is compelling if not much fun to read, but then again the core subject matter is too dark for it to be so.