Going the Extra Mile
Bronze sculptor preserves Steve Prefontaine’s winning spirit
By Craig Reed
With his fingers working the clay and his mind focusing on the details of the sculpture, Mike Leckie is bringing a full-sized image of Steve Prefontaine to life.
A 72-year-old sculptor, Mike has been shaping clay since he was about 10.
Steve is the former long-distance runner from Coos Bay who ran for Marshfield High School, the University of Oregon, the Oregon Track Club, and Team USA in the 1972 Summer Olympic Games. While preparing for the 1976 Olympics, Steve set American records at every distance from 2,000 to 10,000 meters.
His efforts on the track were an inspiration for many during a 1970s running boom in the U.S.
But his life was cut short at age 24 when he died in an automobile accident.
Mike’s goal is to bring Steve’s energy, effort, and spirit back in the form of a bronze sculpture that shows the runner rounding the final curve and looking to the finish line during a Hayward Field race in Eugene.
“What I’m hoping people will see is that he has already run a long, hard race and he’s pushing himself through exhaustion to the finish line,” Mike says. “I’ve worked really hard on that, and I think I’ve accomplished it.
“I want people to see Pre’s human side. It was his inner drive that made him succeed, not that he was a superhero. When he was young in grade school, he was undersized and a slow learner. We want kids—the whole new generation of runners—to relate to that and then to know what Pre turned into by his intense desire to run and succeed.”
Ben Sandreth, office manager for Mike Leckie Sculpture, says the Pre sculpture will “wow everyone.”
“I’ve worked for Mike for several years, watching him sculpt amazing pieces of art,” Ben says. “His expertise in sculpting and his attention to detail is spectacular. This Prefontaine bronze is on another level.”
Mike carved balsa wood while growing up on an Eastern Oregon ranch along the John Day River.
He describes himself as “the tough ranch kid who was always an artist.”
He eventually enrolled at Oregon State University in Corvallis and majored in metal smithing.
During his college years in the early 1970s, he was able to watch Pre-run for the University of Oregon. Mike saw a person who was similar to him: from a rural background, about the same age, not too tall at 5-foot-8, and not a big guy. But there was a determination and desire to succeed.
Mike has directed his own determination into creating the Pre bronze during the past several years. It is a project he has thought about since returning to Oregon in 1981 after working for a master sculptor in Los Angeles for several years.
He opened his own business and studio at a quiet, forested site off Fox Hollow Road in South Eugene.
5 years ago, Mike had a couple of meetings with Linda Prefontaine, Steve’s sister, to get her approval.
Working for free, he began the project by creating a maquette—a smaller model of Pre—from which to work to sculpt the life-size bronze. He began working on the life-size sculpture in January 2021, completing it more than a year later in February.
The sculpture was cast in bronze by Calcagno Foundry of Boring, Oregon, with that process completed in mid-June.
“I think Pre is probably the best thing I’ve ever done,” says Mike, who has created sculptures for clients around the world. “I’m sure it’s going to be a winner.”
Kathleen Istudor of Wildwood SEO—a company that provides Mike Leckie Sculpture with marketing and digital services—says she sees similarities in the lives of Pre and Mike.
“In their daily lives, these two men seem to mirror lives like our own,” she says. “They are just ordinary men. However, when we witness their focused passion and determination, we see them elevate beyond the ordinary. Both Prefontaine and Leckie teach us that if we focus on our passion, and stay the course, our ordinary can become extraordinary.”
Mike says he is thrilled the bronzed Pre will be on display at public venues in Eugene during the 2022 World Athletics Championships—a track and field meet scheduled for July 15-24 at Hayward Field.
“He’s standing on a 6-inch base so when people have their photograph taken with him, his head will stand above the crowd,” Mike says. “Pre was a man of the people, so I want him to be at street level with them.”
After the track meet, the plan is to take the Pre sculpture around to schools in Oregon, delivering a message that focuses on the determination that Steve Prefontaine exhibited in his life and running career.
“It is Mike’s hope to celebrate the unique spark in Pre’s life so that we and our children remember to celebrate our own,” Kathleen says. “The inspiration of Pre’s drive and spirit is just what we, our children, and our community need after the disruptions we faced these past years.”
A nonprofit has been established to help fund and support the effort of sharing the message of Pre’s spirit to Oregon school kids. Details can be found at serveyourspirit.org. For people interested in buying a Pre maquette or finding a permanent home for the life-sized Pre bronze, details are available online on Mike Leckie’s website.