I recently went to the premiere screening of a documentary about Steve Prefontaine called The Church of Pre. Co-directed, written, and filmed by Randolph Benson and Brian McLawhorn, presented by Understory Productions and Critical Focus Pictures, this film is a beautiful source of perspective on Pre’s legacy.

Its story is centered around a site called Pre’s Rock. Anyone who knows about Pre knows this place. It’s the site of a tragedy: the car crash that took Pre’s life at the age of 24, in the year 1975. Since that time, even nearly 50 years since his death, Pre’s Rock has functioned as a shrine to all who knew and loved him. People come from states away to leave behind their memorabilia: old and new track shoes, runner’s number badges, t-shirts (including “Stop Pre” shirts that I’m sure he’d appreciate), track medals, poems, and one of my favorites—a series of rubber duckies. These mementos used to be gathered and protected by Cliff and Sherry Shirley, in order to make space for new offerings without discarding the old. Since their passing, the job of custodian has moved on to someone new, whose identity is still unknown.

In an interview in the film, a friend of Pre’s, Steve Bence, said that there’s a presence that he does not feel at Pre’s grave in Coos Bay, but that he does feel at Pre’s Rock. Others claim to feel their connection with Prefontaine grow through their visitation to the rock—including people who never met him in person. In a Q&A session after the screening. Steve Bence went on to tell the story of once taking a group on a tour to Pre’s Rock, and showing them a picture of himself and a few other friends alongside Pre himself. As Bence spoke about one man in the picture—a man who was living on the East Coast at the time—he was shocked to see the man in question round the corner leading to the rock at that exact moment. He said that he must have had at least 20 coincidences like that at Pre’s Rock.

This spot has never stopped receiving visitors. Developments on the site have added a memorial stone, and more recently a new safety railing and sidewalk to protect visitors. It is a ritual for many current and former athletes to pay their respects here. For athletes and admirers alike, it doesn’t seem like this tradition shows any sign of disappearing. This is the Church of Pre, and it’s stronger than ever.

For more information on The Church of Pre and those involved in it its creation, you can visit: thechurchofpre.com

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