Tim Bright, Phoenix High School, 1978

 

Tim Bright was a third-grader playing Little League baseball when he underwent a battery of tests on his heart. A cardiologist looked him square in the eye and said, Don't overexert yourself, son, or you could die.

Bright suffered from a faulty aortic valve. That's the portion of the heart that pumps blood into the arteries and through the body, but Bright's valve leaked oxygen.

Thus, he ran the risk of heart attack or stroke.

But the condition barely slowed the superb athlete, who became a world-class pole vaulter and decathlete after starring at Phoenix High and Abilene Christian University.

Bright participated in four United States Olympic Trials, three Olympics and won seven national championships.

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I was fortunate to have parents who didn't baby or coddle me, says Bright, now 46 and living near Portland, where he works as a project manager for a commercial construction company. I had some limitations in what I could do. I never could have been a distance runner, for example.

A couple times I almost passed out while I was competing, but it's just something that I lived with and was able to overcome.

Bright didn't turn out for track at Phoenix until late in his junior year - his favorite sport had been football - but by the time he was a senior in 1978, he was reaching personal bests in the pole vault nearly every meet. He sailed over the bar at 13 feet, 9 inches to win the Skyline Conference district meet, then cleared 14-4 at the Class 3A state meet the following week, finishing second to eventual college teammate Toby Hatfield.

Bright earned a scholarship to Linn Benton Community College in Albany, then went on to Abilene Christian University, a track and field power in Abilene, Texas that became known as the pole vault capital of the world.

When Bright was there, the Wildcats featured world indoor record holder Billy Olson and American outdoor record holder Brad Pursley. As good as Bright was in the vault - he eventually conquered 19-2 and won the 1992 Olympic Trials - he played third fiddle to the other two in college.

That's when he began dabbling in the decathlon.

I didn't like it too much, but the team needed points in other events, Bright explained. I was filling in in the hurdles, javelin, long jump and high jump and then doing the decathlon for the big meets.

We were a Division II school, but there weren't many D1 schools that could beat us.

Bright continued to compete after college, hitting the European circuit and competing in the United States during Olympic years and at other major meets. He won three outdoor and two indoor pole vault titles at the U.S. National Track and Field Championships, along with two national decathlon titles.

Bright never won an Olympic medal - his best finish was seventh in the decathlon at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.

After winning the U.S. Olympic Trials pole vault in 1992, Bright gave it one last shot at age 36 when he competed in the 1996 Trials. But he failed to clear opening height.

I had a good run at it, Bright said. I watched a couple of generations go by.

These days, Bright oversees large construction projects. His company focuses on public works projects such as schools, police stations, fire stations and bridges. He's been stationed on the Oregon Coast the past few months while his company replaces Nestucca High School near Tillamook.

Bright and his wife, Julie, herself a former world-class track athlete, have two daughters: Madeline, 12, and Audrey, 7. They live in Oak Grove, a small community southeast of Portland along the Willamette River.

Bright lived with his faulty aortic valve all these years but finally underwent an operation known as the Ross Procedure six months ago. The procedure involves replacing the aortic valve with the pulmonary valve and then implanting a new pulmonary valve from an organ donor.

Even without the surgery, Bright had the heart of a champion.