| The Heritage Mile
After Her Final Run, Doris Heritage’s Dreams Remain With Her Student-Athletes
The news media were all over the story: “Running legend gears for
her final mile,” declared the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
“One final run: Heritage ends her passion in glorious style,” opined
The Seattle Times.
her final competitive mile, Doris Heritage led 200 well-wishers on a memory-making
run for student scholarships.
But had she herself been asked for a
headline about her last meet before hip-replacement surgery, two-time Olympian
and five-time world cross country champion Doris Heritage might
easily have written, “Faith is the bridge to an exciting coaching
The Heritage Mile in May raised $6,500 for the Doris Heritage
Scholarship Endowment at Seattle Pacific University. But the invitational
meet held at West Seattle’s Southwest Athletic Complex, was more
than a fund-raiser. It was in many respects a reunion for those
special few who know what it is to run for the pure joy of it,
who know what personal dread they would feel if told “no more running.”
four laps, nearly 200 former teammates, former students, coaching
staff and admirers surrounded their mentor and inspiration. Friends
came from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska, to sprint at her side.
It’s not every day that one can run with a sports legend on her
last turn around the track.
In 38 years of coaching at Seattle Pacific,
countless hundreds of runners have felt the Heritage touch and
seen the back of her heels. Traci Baker Bianchini ’89, head girls
cross country and track coach at Jackson High School in Everett,
Washington, explained to The Times the essence of Heritage as coach: “She
never stops. Never uses anything as an excuse. She loved running
so much. She never thought about the cost.
”Not the broken foot
that kept her off the 1964 Olympic team. Not the torn tendon suffered
just before the 1,500 meters at the 1972 Munich Games. Not even
the seven operations on her feet over the years. And not, apparently,
the artificial hip now a grudging part of her anatomy. “My husband,
Ralph, drives me a quarter mile down the road,” she says of her
post-operative routine, “and I get to crutch 10 minutes along the
beach and back.”
What is that compared to the 100 miles per week
on foot she averaged in the prime of her competitive career?
It is something. It is not stopping. It is like reliving the 1950s
when girls weren’t allowed to run on high school track teams
because they might hurt themselves. Heritage ran anyway, in saddle
shoes, through forest and field, chasing her friends on their
bikes and their horses. Why did she run? It was something to
experience the mud and the rain and the hills of God’s creation,
Forty-six years later, it is still something. “I can’t
begin to tell you how humbled I am by this experience,” Heritage
says of the Mile meet and its aftermath. “To have all those people
participate and send greetings
I want my athletes to realize
the significance of a Christian community.” She thinks they got
the message as the entire men’s track team came to visit her
in the hospital. The medical staff was impressed that her athletes
would take time right before final exams to pray with their coach.
At 62, Heritage has assembled one of the most illustrious
careers in the running world. The pioneer in women’s distance running
was the first American female to break the 5-minute barrier in
the mile. She is an inductee into eight halls of fame for both
athletes and coaches. She was named one of Washington state’s
50 greatest sports figures of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated.
She once held four world records.
But for the Seattle Pacific
graduate of 1964, the heart beats strongest for her athletes.
She says she learned a great deal about coaching from the dedicated
example of her friend and mentor, retired SPU Coach Ken Foreman.
Now she’s looking ahead not behind toward a continued coaching
career at her alma mater. “I prayed that I would be able to focus
on positive things and not be moping around about how awful it
would be not to run,” she said to The Herald in Everett. “I think
I’ve had an answer to my prayer because I really don’t feel a
bit lost about it when I would expect to.”
Heritage has set the
gold standard of excellence for students. Ten of her cross country
teams placed in the top 10 at national meets, and SPU has won
women’s conference championships six times since 1993. In all,
Seattle Pacific men and women runners have scored at nationals
36 times in the last 26 years.
Though she will of necessity adapt
her coaching style to present circumstances, athletes can still
expect to have to run to keep up with Doris Heritage.
— BY CLINT KELLY
— PHOTO BY DANIEL SHEEH
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