What Vibram 5 Fingers Did To This Olympic Champion Will Piss You Off

Vibram Rips Off Barefoot Olympic Champion's Family.
Vibram Rips Off Barefoot Olympic Champion’s Family.

It’s September 10, 1960 and Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila, is leading the pack in the Olympic Marathon in Rome, Italy. Morocco’s Abdesian Rhadi is chasing closely behind, but Rhadi can’t catch the remarkably fast barefoot Ethopian, who finishes in about 2 hours, 15 minutes, taking the gold and shattering the Olympic marathon record by almost eight minutes.

Bikila wasn’t even supposed to race that hot day in September-he was a last minute addition to the Ethiopian team when their star runner got sick.

Despite Bikilia’s amazing victory, his story doesn’t end happily. In 1969 a terrible crash leaves him paralyzed; when asked about the accident, he says:

“Men of success meet with tragedy. It was the will of God that I won the Olympics, and it was the will of God that I met with my accident. I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy.”

He dies of complications, just a few years later.

There is no doubt that Bikili is a champion in every way. He epitomizes determination and the runner’s spirit.  In 2010, on the heels of the barefoot running craze, Vibram Five Fingers decides to make the barefoot olympian the poster child for minimalist running, introducing the Bikili line of five finger running shoes, trademarking the Bikili name to protect their golden goose. There’s just one problem: Bikila’s family never gives Vibram permission to use Bikili’s name in any way shape or form. When the family discovers that Bikili’s name is being used without permission, they sue Vibram in U.S. District Court, seeking monetary damages.

Unfortunately, Judge Ronald Leighton dismisses the case, leaving the family out in the cold.  The lawyer for Bikili’s family writes, “The fact remains that Vibram has never asked the Bikila Family for permission, nor compensated them for using Abebe Bikila’s personality….We hope that the parties can ultimately resolve their differences and the Bikila family can continue to promote the legacy of Abebe Bikila.”

Is this really what Vibram wants to be remembered for? Stealing an olympic champion’s legacy.

Chasing Wolves

English: Engraving of a black wolf by J. G. Ke...
English: Engraving of a black wolf by J. G. Keulemans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a boy, my grandfather gave me a slingshot. I used it almost everyday in the open field near his house. One day I set up range with rusty tin cans and dirty old beer bottles near a giant oak tree. Perched on one of the long gnarly limbs of the tree was a dove. It was sitting so still, gazing down at me. I don’t know what got into me, but I grabbed a jagged rock, loaded it into the slingshot, pulled back as far as I could, and aimed at the bird.

The dove wasn’t like the cans, it didn’t just fall over when the rock struck it; instead its lightly feathered breast absorbed the sharp rock with a soft thump; the dove cried out with dull and painful murmur as it struggled to heave itself into the sky. With its chest crushed, it couldn’t fly, pulsing wildly in the air as it tumbled into a patch of tall grass near the base of the oak. I sprinted over, watching it beat its wings back and forth against the dirt and grass, trying to breathe into its smashed breast, its strength slowly fading from it, dark blood trickling from its beak. I remember looking into its eyes, they seemed to say to me “Why did you do this to me?” I had no answer. So I just stared at it, stunned. Slowly the stroke of the dove’s wings waned until it lay still, its outstretched wings facing heaven. The moment it died, I sensed the presence of my ancestors, watching me from above, scowling down with disapproval.

I felt heartsick. Something snapped deep inside my being, a flood of guilt and shame rushed into my soul. I felt dirty, sullied, unclean. I clutched at my chest trying to wipe the feeling away, but the stain remained.

I ran into my grandfather’s house crying. He gathered me up in his big carpenter’s arms and held me, rocking me back and forth in his burly armchair. My head against his chest with tears in my eyes, I told him what I had done. He let me cry for a while, and when I had calmed down, he told me this story:

He said inside everyone is a black wolf. And this black wolf is cruelty, fear, ignorance: everything evil. But also inside everyone is a white wolf. And this white wolf is love, courage, curiosity: everything good. At some point in everyone’s life, these two wolves start to fight. When the black wolf is winning, he said, you’ll feel the way you do now: confused, sad, unfulfilled. But when the white wolf is winning you’ll feel focused, happy, fulfilled. If you’re not careful, he warned, the black wolf can gradually take control of you, leading you down very dark paths. I knew that I didn’t want follow the black wolf; so,  I asked my grandfather what I could do to fight it. He put his hands on my shoulders and said, “To fight the black wolf, you must feed the white one, giving him more power and strength than the black one.” Then he told me to find the body of the dove, apologize to it, dig a grave for it and to bury the slingshot next to it. I did what my grandfather told me to do and I felt much better. When I patted the last scoop of dirt on the grave, I could tell that my my ancestors and the dove were pleased.

Sometimes when I’m alone on long barefoot runs on the remote trails of the  Oregon wilderness, I feel a powerful presence leading the way, guarding me from the black wolves prowling in the dark shadows.

Which wolf are you feeding?

Guns Don’t Kill People, Running Does

In my Career Link class, we toured Leupold Optics, a high tech manufacturer of rifle scopes. Our tour guide, a fat, red faced middle aged manager with a Hitler-esque mustache, sported a bright yellow button that said “Guns save lives!” The button was comical, not only because its message is complete bullshit, but also because the man wearing it was standing under an orgy of death. Guns certainly didn’t save the life of that stuffed antelope hammered to the wall, or the shiny crocodile smiling sharply with his serrated teeth nailed next to it, or the huge taxidermy mountain lion prowling over the entrance to the cafeteria.

When I split open my knee on a run along the Salmon River Trail, I certainly didn’t expect my hospital doctor to pull out a GLOCK to fix it. Guns don’t save lives, they take them–well bullets take them, the gun just starts the process. How can anyone wear a button with such an inane slogan? How can anyone with enough sense to operate a silkscreen be dumb enough to print it?

Lax gun regulations are a problem in our country. In Oregon, it’s legal to carry a concealed gun on your person. The only requirement is a carry and conceal permit. How do you get the permit? Pay $29.99 and take an online course. How much guidance can a person get from a one-shot, online course?

English: AR-15 rifle with a Stag lower receive...
English: AR-15 rifle with a Stag lower receiver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s easier to legally buy an AR-15 assault rifle than it is to legally drive a car. To get a license to drive, you have to take hours of specialized training, pass a rigorous written exam and demonstrate your skills behind the wheel during a supervised driving test. The state makes you prove that you know the rules. And there are lots of rules for the road, you have to know when to yield, what speed to drive, and how to use your blinker when you turn. And if you get caught breaking the rules, you get a ticket, and if you get caught driving drunk, you pay a hefty fine and get your license taken away. And you can’t just drive any old car you want down the street: your vehicle must be “street  legal.”

Mad Max world
Mad Max world (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are practically no regulations for gun ownership in America. You don’t need any safety training to own rifle or a handgun; there are no penalties for unsafe gun handling, and you can buy high powered weapons like assault rifles and kits to modify them from anyone willing to sell them. The only thing you have prove when purchasing a firearm is that you weren’t committed to an insane asylum or sentenced to prison. Imagine what would happen if we applied gun laws to driving: Mad Max.

I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve gone barefoot hiking or running in the majestic forests of Oregon and come across fields of shotgun shells and 22 caliber bullet casings scattered along the forest floor, just steps away from crushed beer cans and shattered bottles of vodka.

Our gun laws are shameful. If you need to undergo hours of training and practical exams to drive a car, you sure as hell should have to do the same to buy an instrument of death like a gun.

Guns are dangerous. That’s not a platitude. They are dangerous and they’re designed to kill anything in their path: deer, moose, and even innocent little girls playing jump-rope on their Mamma’s front porch. Here’s one of many alarming statistics:

… we found that states with higher levels of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides.


I am not against gun ownership. But we must ensure that gun owners are solid, responsible citizens who have been trained and tested in the safe and proper use of firearms.

Until then, what do I say to the man wearing the “Guns save lives!” badge? “Save a life: shoot yourself!”


Six Word Saturday

Mastered Buddhism: Now I know nothing…

English: Seated Buddha Amitabha statue, west s...
English: Seated Buddha Amitabha statue, west side of Borobudur, ca. 1863-1866. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)