In the 1972 Munich Olympics, Frank Shorter won the marathon, becoming the first American gold medalist in the marathon since 1908. This marathon victory helped propel the nascent running movement in the United States, which continues to thrive today, nearly 50 years later. Frank Shorter, a Yale graduate and an attorney, became an iconic figure for distance runners in the United States.
Shorter also won the silver medal in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Later, it was discovered that the gold medalist, Waldemar Cierpinski, from East Germany, was part of the systematic East German doping program. So actually, Shorter deserved the gold medal for the marathon in both the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.
In this autobiography, Shorter tells the story of his training and racing over the years that he was competing. He also explores some of his relationship with such fellow runners as Steve Prefontaine and Kenny Moore, both fellow Olympians. Moreover, Shorter also would become a leading figure in the movement to help make track and field, along with other sports, drug-free.
However, the heart of the book in some ways is not running, but the tragic story of an abusive father. Shorter grew up in a smallish town in New York State, one of 10 children. Their father was a hero in the community, a local physician, who was held in wide esteem. But what people did not know, and what many people today refuse to accept, is that his father terrorized the rest of the family. The terror included emotional and physical abuse, and with the daughters in the family, sexual abuse. It was horrific.
Because of shame and fear, Shorter kept this tragedy private from even his closest friends, and even his first wife, for decades. But eventually he decided to go public and tell his story. It is a sobering story.
I found Shorter’s autobiography surprisingly fascinating. Some of that is the story of his tragic childhood and how he has dealt with it. Some of it may be that I lived, to some extent, in the world of international distance running and marathoning, even interacting with Shorter on several occasions. And I certainly enjoyed some of the riveting running stories, both about his training and his racing. But perhaps, the reason the book impacted me so much was that I saw in Shorter a marathoner who was intentional, deliberate and thoughtful about his training and racing, an athlete who fully leveraged his gifts and abilities for running. For various reasons, including deep struggles with OCD, I do not think I maximized the running abilities that God gave me. I suspect that the book had a subconscious poignancy in me because of this issue.
For most distance runners, Shorter’s autobiography will be a great read.