Spotlight: Former running star returns to promote U-M to alumni
Greg Meyer was a star on U-M's mid-1970s track and cross country teams before he won the 1983 Boston Marathonand he remains the last American man to win that event.
But when his Grand Rapids home was broken into several years ago and several running keepsake items stolen, Meyer says the first things he replaced were his treasured Big Ten cross country championship rings.
After setting 10 American road racing records and two World Records, and winning several major races and earning the title of U.S. Male Distance Runner of the Year (1983), Meyer worked over 15 years for athletic shoe companies before accepting a job with U-M six and a half years ago. "Regent Emeritus Daniel Horning bumped into me at a football game and heard I was looking at jobs," Meyer says. "He asked if I had an interest in coming back to U-M. Not only did I love Ann Arbor and U-M from my days here, but my daughter had just started her freshman year here, so of course I had an interest."
Horning passed his resume to Susan Feagin, former vice president of development, who hired him. In his role as director of Major Gifts for the Greater Michigan Region, Meyer works with alumni who seek to give back to U-M. "I enjoy the process of getting people to be connected with the University," he says.
Meyer was in high school in Grand Rapids when an assistant football coach first noticed his talent for distance running. Meyer ran several hundred yards after a football practice, on a whim. "It didn't bother me," he recalls. "He says maybe you should be going out for another sport (cross country). Obviously, God smacked me with the gene that allowed me to handle endurance events."
Meyer ran for Grand Rapids West Catholic High School, then joined U-M's track and cross country teams. "My fondest running memories are around the teams I was on," Meyer says. "We won three Big Ten cross country titles in a row when I was here (1974-76), and a few track titles as well. The spirit on those teams was incredible. Being the first Michigan person to break four minutes in the mile at an indoor meet at U-M was also a thrill."
Meyer credits his coach Ron Warhurst, still U-M head track coach and cross country coach, with developing a training approach that also suited his post-college running career, as Warhurst emphasized leg speed and endurance. "The most important thing a coach does is getting his athlete to believe in his training. Ron has that gift," Meyer says.
Meyer met Bill Rodgers, four-time winner of the Boston and New York marathons, and began training with him, before winning his own Boston Marathon. He also won the 1980 Detroit Marathon, 1982 Chicago Marathon, has been inducted into the Halls of Fame for ESPN Road Racing and the Road Runners Club of America, and helped fight to win the right to earn prize money at events.
"Instead of just a few of us getting appearance money at an event, you had to earn it, much like golf or tennis," Meyer recalls. "In the long run, it acted as a detriment to the sport in that athletes became more concerned with their contracts than they did about improving or competing. It's only been the last few years where this has started to turn around."
Meyer explains that the running club-team system he enjoyed in college and in his post-colligate careera system that countries, particularly Kenya, use to great successinspire teammates to accomplish more. "It's that us versus them mentality that bonds a team," Meyer says. "Clubs are coming back now. You get better by training in packs."
He says another positive change has been the growth in the number of women runners, a trend that began in the 1970s. "The charity event angle has been a driving force; it's encouraged more women to participate. I believe it's been great for the sport of road running."
Today, Meyer, the father of three grown children, Nicolle, Jay and Dan, continues to run five days a week to stay healthy and because he enjoys it. He also takes pleasure in helping the Dexter High School cross country team. "The satisfaction is seeing people improve," Meyer says, adding that two former Dexter athletes now run for U-M.
His former training partner Rodgers is scheduled to be on campus Sept. 9 for the fourth annual Friends of the Program for Understanding Neurological Diseases Race for Reason run/walk benefit.
"We'll probably go fishing, " Meyer says.