Tuesday, August 07, 2012
There were no survivors. The tragedy didn't get widespread national coverage. It wasn't until late in the day that Pat's wife, Trish Porter, and Olympic high jumper for the US, was contacted and she confirmed the identities of those on the plane LetsRun.com picked up the wire story on the crash and news spread on Facebook.
In death, as in life Porter, who was 53, flew below the radar and attracted little attention for what he accomplished both on and off the athletic field. Porter, whose nickname was The Panther for the hip tattoo he had of the big cat, won eight consecutive US cross country titles from 1982-89. Perhaps it was fitting that his cross country streak was ended by another Minnesotan, Bob Kempainen, who beat Porter on one of the country's iconic cross country courses, Van Cortland Park in New York.
Porter's success was not limited to cross country. He was an Olympian at 10,000 meters in 1984 and '88. His son, Connor, was a nationally ranked fencer. He and Trish's daughter, Shannon, 11, is a figure skater. Porter was an avid pilot and a successful salesman in the family's hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He had just been inducted into the Rocky Mountain Conference Hall of Fame on July 20.
I met him while covering US cross country championship meets in the '80s where he and his good friend Lynn Jennings used to dominate. There is an iconic Nike ad with Pat and Lynn, covered in mud with the tag line: "Their Name is Mud" that celebrated the pair's dominance of US cross country. The pair stare at the camera with the intensity that they so often employed on race day, while away from the course both were warm, witty, intelligent individuals who took on all comers athletically with an in-your-face, try and run with me if you can approach to the sport.
In 1984 the IAAF World Cross Country Championships were held at the Meadowlands horse track in New Jersey. Porter believed it was his best chance to emulate Illinois native Craig Virgin's feat of winning the international cross country crown. Porter led almost the entire race, pushing the pace, trying to shed eventual winner Carlos Lopes of Portugal, runner-up Tim Hutchings of England, and Steve Jones of Wales, who finished third.
Lopes, who would win the Olympic marathon that summer in LA, broke away from the other three late in the race, and Porter was outkicked by Hutchings and Jones down the stretch. Angry and frustrated, Porter stormed out of the finishing chute and took out his emotion on his singlet, tearing the top in half and uttering a few choice expletives about the quality of the fit of the jersey. The Panther in Porter was at full roar.
Chris Fuller, who directed the Hennepin-Lake Classic, brought Porter back to Minnesota to run the race one year as I'd written about Porter's Minnesota roots. Pat and I joked about how we'd adopted him, as his family moved soon after he was born, so calling him a Minnesotan was a bit of a stretch, but he enjoyed it and noted how he liked the area and should probably get back more.
Closest he would get would be Sturgis, South Dakota on his "hog," the motorcycle that he liked to brag could get from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds. Seeing the gangly, rail thin Porter atop his racing machine was indeed a sight. He was certainly someone you could pick out in the Harley crowd. Sadly, he won't be around to entertain and amaze us. As one of the Facebook messages aptly put it RIP(run in peace) Pat Porter.