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Summer 2004 | Volume 26, Number 7 | Athletics
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.
For 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 future!”

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.”

For 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, she says.

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.


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Back to the top
Back to Athletics

From the President
As Seattle Pacific University gains notice nationwide, President Philip Eaton challenges the community. “Build your city on a hill so everyone can see what you are doing,” he writes. “Build a reputation.”

Equipped for Success
An endowment helped 2003 graduate Vickerie Williams gain the confidence to become a key employee with Philips Medical Systems. [Campaign]

Honor Roles
A President’s Chapel in May honored five faculty and staff members for their individual excellence. [Campus]

Three Faculty Say Good-Bye
As they retire, three professors mark the completion of their remarkable careers at Seattle Pacific University and beyond. [Faculty]

The 2004 Medallion Awards
Alumni awards spotlight 10 Seattle Pacific graduates who have engaged the culture in various ways. [Alumni]

Attack of the Big-Screen Clones
Response reviews some of Hollywood’s film portrayals of cloning and related topics. See which ones may be worth your time watching. [Books & Film]

My Response
Debra Prinzing, 1981 SPU alumna, helps readers find God in their gardens. “… I think the pursuit of beauty in the garden is a pursuit to know God better,” she says.