Here if Jeff Benjamins’ story on Frank Shorter’s return to his high school. It was at Mt. Hermon where Shorter began his love of running. It is an amazing story, and we thank Jeff Benjamin for his view of Frank Shorter’s visit to Mt. Hermon.
Frank Shorter Comes Back Home to
By Jeff Benjamin
It has been said by many that the late Steve Prefontaine learned to “hone his fire” at Hayward Field as a student at the University of Oregon. Some also say that Bill Rodgers learned his craft through the streets of Boston.
But America’s Great Olympic Gold Medalist runner honed his fire & craft in a more serene and secluded area. It was at North Mount Hermon High School in rural central Massachusetts where 1972 Marathon Gold Medalist Frank Shorter developed and believed that his running could lead him to great heights .
Now, after more than 50 years since he received his diploma (and then subsequently went on to Yale and later on to that fateful day in Munich) Shorter, (whose story tragically also includes his horrendous childhood at the hands of his father) returned back to the place where he learned to excel, both athletically and in the classroom.
“I’m feeling more awkward than ever to be wearing this ceremonial Gold Medal around my neck,” said School Headmaster Peter Fayroian as he introduced the legendary Shorter as the Commencement Speaker at this year’s graduation ceremonies. Fayroian then delved into Shorter’s student time at Mount Hermon, as he arrived in the Fall of ’62 and eventually became involved with the famous Pie Race. The race, America’s oldest continuous race in the nation, traverses through the trails throughout the campus property. No easy course, this true hardcore race over a hilly XC course, according to Fayroian, “spurred his passion to running.”
After recounting Shorter’s incredible athletic records and accomplishments, Fayroian then concluded with other qualities which the Headmaster espoused also developed during his time here, speaking about Shorter’s Involvement in the U.S. Anti-Doping fights as well as his call to protect children from abuse.
It was then that the crowd of over 1,000 students, faculty, family and friends were then introduced to Shorter. “Oh wow it’s surreal to speak here…the time is right!”
Shorter then spoke about those virtues he learned here.”I hope that you can look at me as someone who’s not emblematic but reflective as a North Mt Hermon student” Shorter then reflected upon the values which he embraced more than 5 decades ago. “That spirit is still here, in a good way,” said Shorter who then recited in French – “plus Ã§a change, plus c’est la mÃªme chose”-“The more it changed the more it stays the same.”
Among the topics and ideas Shorter spoke about included his beginnings in running. He was already running with his trademark long right-arm swing, a trait he attributed to running back and forth from school while carrying his heavy school books. “When I got to Mt. Hermon I wasn’t a runner….it took a year,” said Shorter who originally went out for Football and Baseball. A bet with a roommate on how he would finish in the famous Pie Race ignited his developing passion for running, as he finished 7th behind 5 of the previous year’s New England XC Championship team. “I went out for XC and the next year was the 2nd man in the team.” Adding to his intensity and capacity to train, Shorter then confessed for all to hear that when his job was finished taking attendance for chapel service he would then sneak out and go for a run during chapel service!
Another intangible in Shorter’s development was the solid support he received from his teachers and peers.
“The first thing I realized was that there were mentors around here,” said Shorter, noting that they ranged from his XC team Captain as well as the faculty. Shorter then remarked about a quality at Mt Hermon that seems to have not left.”That love of learning for learnings sake is still here!” Along with that love of learning came the ability to learn to manage time. “Here is where I learned to compartmentalize…Turning on a switch and turning off a switch.” This quality also turned Shorter into an outstanding Student-Athlete.
“Turn on the Academic switch then turn it off and then turn on the athletic switch.”
Another quality Shorter developed at Mt. Hermon? “Incremental goal setting,” said Shorter. “Ok lets just find out how well I can do…And that all started here!”
Those qualities paid off for Shorter at the Munich Olympics. With the specter of the slaughter of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists taking place a few days earlier, Shorter had decided to use all the qualities he honed from Mt. Vernon. “At the starting line in Munich there would be no worrying, just relying on my ability,” said Shorter.
“I made a decision that after the massacre that I wouldn’t think about it…No what ifs…..Not thinking about race security…The Gun goes off so Ok lets find out!”
Shorter wasn’t the only one to find out, so did his competitors and the world. Clicking off 5 minutes per mile, Shorter then threw in a 4:32 mile at the 9- mile mark (a story he told that morning to the Mt Hermon Track team at breakfast who reacted with awe!) and then ran sub-5 the rest of the way, winning the Gold and inadvertently igniting America’s “Running Boom”, clocking 2 hours 12 minutes and 19 seconds.
Shorter then recounted the Medal Ceremony. ” I was thinking, “what was I going to do?”
” I reflected back to my time here at Mount Hermon. I also decided not to do the normal expected things….After Munich I’ve learned over 45 years that what I was going to do was to keep moving on, that this was not going to be the most significant thing in my life…Don’t do the one success in life….keep on moving”
All these years later, as Shorter has now come full circle at Mt Hermon, those same skills, qualities and life lessons still drive him, as he left the large crowd with advice the graduates and alums already possess.
“Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams and your passions…Things that happen to me can happen to you!”