Trip Down Memory Lane

Susie Niedermeyer Neighbors remembers her time in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s.

Susie Niedermeyer 1979

I had never  been one to walk much down Memory Lane. I left the University of Oregon in 1981, ditching the Birkenstocks, backpack, and even the custom Nikes made for me as part of Bill Bowerman’s experimental test toward the first ever Nike women’s shoe last. “Really?” I think now, “Did we really have to wear men’s shoes 1.5 sizes smaller? Oh my God-that makes me feel old!”


But, when the solicitations early last year for the “Women in Athletics Celebration” started coming in, I thought initially, “Hmm, maybe I should consider going to this one,” which graduated to, “I should probably go,” and then finally, “ I gotta go get my letter!”  I felt a sense of responsibility to go somehow, after all these years, and decided it was important to take my family.


My friend Jim Peterson from my early sophomore days at Georgetown University, now living in Eugene, encouraged me to come down and attend all I could. “You won’t regret it,” he said,  and he invited us to stay in his beautiful home near Spencer’s Butte, which was a reunion within a reunion. Jim didn’t attend any of the events with us but was there every evening psyched to hear all about it and very proud of me. Coming from an All-American in the mile, that meant a lot.


As we pulled closer to the University for Friday night’s Twilight Meet, I said “ I feel like I’m walking down Memory Lane. Except I don’t recognize anything!”  My son and husband will tease me about that for some time. As we walked closer and then behind the track, I got those old familiar butterflies. The VIP passes to the Twilight Meet and the Bowerman reception were awesome and appreciated by my husband and son. It was my son’s first-ever live track meet. He would never admit it, but I know he felt proud to find his mom’s mug in a group track and field photo on one of the big banners gracing the foyer of the Bowerman Building. I know I felt very proud to be a part of such a great legacy of talent much more famous and fast than me and to be a part of that night and this very special weekend!


There was a very nice spread of food and libations, so spirits were high among old friends on the Bowerman balcony.  It felt a bit sacrilegious to be eating and drinking at a track meet. I said to Eryn Forbes in that suspended silence just before the gun went off for a race, “ I feel guilty up here with a fine pinot in hand.”  Her retort was, “Susie, I’m just glad I don’t have to get out of my sweats!” It was a blustery night. And oh, how I remember how hard it was to shed those big baggy green sweats and hoody before a cold, rainy, cross country race!


Saturday morning we had a track and field breakfast back at the Bowerman Building. Ellen Schmidt Devlin, producer of “We Grew Wings,” corralled us to run a couple laps around Hayward Field together under rolling cameras. When my feet hit that track for the first time in 30 years they wanted to fly! It’s like wings were on my feet and they wanted to rip out some 77 second quarters for fun, just like the old days. I had to pull tightly in on the reins to jog with the group!


We were met at the finish line by some of the 2011 track stars for an impromptu meet and greet to share stories; it was really cool. The bright young stars were enthusiastic and tickled to hear some of our stories. I remembered Tom Heinonen’s  famous Chinese Menu Workout, where he gave us choices written out and stuck with tape to one wall of the track. I’m not sure if it’s my own fantastical memory, but menu item “C” was: “Jog to Prince Puckler’s, get an ice cream, and walk back.”  To sweeten my selective memory, I’m almost certain Tom said to me, “Niedermeyer, choose “C” –you’re tired. And rest is just as important as hard work.” The only problem then, after enjoying my double decker coffee-almond-fudge and raspberry-cheesecake cone, was to worry about Monday’s weigh in!


I ended up running Pre’s Trails with  fellow track alum, Penny Graves, seven years my junior, who qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 3000 or 5000 meters her senior year. We had a lovely visit on the run though we had just met that day. Maybe it was that Hayward Field  “wings on my feet” thing, but I just wanted to keep running! She ran back to the Bowerman Building while I continued on for a couple more miles. When I walked in, Tom teased, “Is that the girl who ran your butt off?”  Ellen was inspired by the fact that we had never before met and had that nice opportunity together. “This is what it’s all about,” she said.


Saturday evening was the big “Women In Athletics Celebration” at The Matthew Knight Arena where hundreds of women from wartime to 1980 were presented their belated varsity letters. Some women came across the stage with canes, walkers, or wheelchairs. It was quite a sight, quite emotional. Kara Goucher was the keynote speaker and delivered a heart-felt speech thanking all of us pioneers for paving the way for all of her opportunities. I tear up as I remember it.


All of our names in green and yellow were streaming across the top of the arena and a very nice slide show was shown on big screens. I was so excited to see a photo of myself, a skinny, young, cross country runner charging up hill. Wow, I didn’t expect that amidst all of these fine athletes. How fun! I kneed my husband, who I only met at age 42, so he was never really a part of that piece of my history. “Are you impressed?” “Sure,” he answered in his trailing Chicago accent, but I knew he was. He was snapping photos like crazy of my name streaming, my photo on the screen, and I can’t be sure through my own welled up eyes, but I’m pretty sure he welled up too!


The reception was beautiful. They went all out with a delicious gourmet dinner and fine wines. The emcee was from ESPN and the framed big yellow “O” was worth the wait. It probably means more to me now than it would have then when I was ready to move on. It was so great to reunite with my former teammates; the camaraderie in the room was terrific.


Since that reunion weekend, I have been interviewed for the book “ Track Women of Oregon” and I recently attended a very inspiring teaser of Ellen’s “We Grew Wings” documentary, where my mug has a cameo appearance in the meeting with the 2011 tracksters on Hayward Field. Another great reunion; more great memories.


One memory, which Eryn Forbes shared with me in Eugene, 2011,  she didn’t have the guts to tell me when we were college teammates after being competitors in high school.  Her coach would have the Sunset  High School team chant something against the opposing team to get fired up. Since St. Mary’s Academy was not known as a threat, but I was becoming known as one, they chanted “Eat Niedermeyer meat!”  After 34 years I took it as a big compliment!


Thanks for the memories, Eryn. Thanks for the encouragement, Jim. And thanks to Ellen and Kim: what great projects you are working on! All the best from someone who ran in your wake but got to help her UO team win the regional cross country title in 1980 as fourth-counting runner.


I wrote that I never really walked down Memory Lane much, but now I am running down it, making up for lost time. I must admit I own a pair of Birkenstocks again, more as slippers than as Eugene winter cycling shoes paired with rag wool socks. I also own several backpacks, and what I would give for a pair of those old custom Nikes!





This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Connect with Facebook

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>