More than a track star

By Georgie Bright Kunkel

Who would suspect that a former world class runner would be living quietly right here in West Seattle? Doris Brown who married her college sweetheart Ralph Heritage doesn’t want to live in the past, but her past is illustrious and cannot be denied. All her life she wanted to run but when she was young this field hadn’t opened up for young women. When she was in Peninsula High School there was at last a club for girls called the Mic Mac Club and this opened up many opportunities. She even ran the 400 and 800 meter races when she was a senior in high school, making a national record for the 800 and went on to the Olympic trials.
At Seattle Pacific University she ran with the men at first as there were few races for women. In her junior year the head of the athletic department thought that women should have a track club. She was the first woman to run an indoor mile in under five minutes. At one time she held every women’s national and world record from 440 yards through one mile. She once participated on the US cross country team in Blackburn, England and they won by one point.

Throughout her running career she loved to experience the seasons as she trained outdoors through every kind of weather, splashing through puddles or being warmed by the sun. After settling in to coaching track and field at SPU, her career spanned forty years. She was an Olympic coach in Los Angeles in 1984 and served on the Olympic Committee and the International Governing Body for Track and Field. Every person who has accomplished what she has achieved, deserves to have such a life chronicled. Her devoted coach, Ken Foreman, wrote her story called the Fragile Champion calling her the one who always ran the extra mile.

When I mentioned that my own brother Norman Bright was a top notch runner in the 1930’s her eyes lit up. She remembered his running in Masters races and in marathons in his later years. There are still many track enthusiasts who appreciate both my brother and Doris Brown Heritage for the energy they expended and the races that they won. In those days there was no remuneration for their efforts. Other countries took better care of their track stars in affording them transportation and other support services. Amateur athletes in the US were not allowed to take any money lest they be disqualified from running in future events.

Doris has lived her life being the best she could be—mentoring young runners and standing firm in her deep feelings that each person can strive to rise to the highest level of accomplishment. Her deep faith shines through when she talks about the will to succeed in life and to live a life of service. Her counsel to young people is to start with little goals and use them as stepping stones. Then when reaching one goal, try for another.

Her strength of purpose and her lessons learned by meeting and overcoming any obstacle is standing her in good stead, as they say. She will remain a beacon of living life to the fullest while sharing her wisdom and expertise with those not as experienced.
Yes, she is truly a trailblazer.

Georgie Kunkel is a freelance writer who can be reached at or 206-935-8663.

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