Skip to main content

Bring ’Em Back: Trish Porter Topmiller

Oct 8, 2020

"Bring 'Em Back" is a series of features on Oregon alumni who played important roles in UO athletics history, but who may not have received the attention their contributions merit. Listen to "Duck Insider" each week for more interviews with deserving Ducks from years past. To nominate a former UO student-athlete for the series, click here.

A high jump bar perched a few feet off the ground is nothing compared with the challenges life has presented to Trish Porter Topmiller.

But four decades spent trying to clear a high jump bar taught Porter Topmiller much about herself, and about resiliency, and about putting trust in faith. She has experienced triumph and she has experienced tragedy, and though high jumping's up and downs couldn't possibly prepare her fully for the path her life would take, it played a part in the resolve she demonstrates to this day.

As Trish King, she competed for the University of Oregon from 1981-83. Her collegiate experience didn't go as planned, but that was also around the time in her life when she first made a deep commitment to her Christian faith.

By 1988, her training was back on track, and she qualified for the Olympic Games that year. She married a fellow U.S. Olympian, Pat Porter — a two-time Olympian and eight-time national cross country champion — and continued jumping. In 2003, competing as Trish Porter, she was back on the apron at Hayward Field to set a world age-group record at the age of 40.

Tragedy struck in 2012, when Pat Porter and the couple's 15-year-old son, Connor, were killed in a small plane crash. In the years since, Porter Topmiller has remarried, continued to raise her daughter, Shannon, and has become an award-winning author.

"Having gone through what I went through, obviously I had family, I had friends, I had support," Porter Topmiller said. "But my faith in God, I really clung to that."

The first time life put a high jump bar metaphorically out of reach for Porter Topmiller was when she was in eighth grade. A physical education teacher told her not to bother with the high jump, "because you'll never be any good," Porter Topmiller recalled.

Undeterred, she went on to challenge for a high school state championship in California. Though she wasn't recruited to compete in college, she planned to continue jumping. A visit to Eugene on a "gorgeous, crystal-blue" August day cemented her decision about where to attend college.

"I just fell in love with it," Porter Topmiller said. "It was beautiful."

Within a few months, of course, the weather took a turn. Having joined collegiate track and field's most elite women's program, Porter Topmiller no longer was the "top dog," in her words. Both of those developments weighed on her mental health.

If she had it to do over again, Porter Topmiller said, she'd be more open with her coaches, and seek help with her adjustment to college.

"Don't be scared," she said, "to get some counseling, get some help."

She ended up leaving the team before her eligibility was up. But the university still holds a place in her heart.

In 2003, Porter Topmiller was back in Eugene competing as a master's athlete. She high-jumped 5 feet, 8.75 inches to set a world record. The public-address announcer at Hayward Field for her record-setting jump was none other than Tom Heinonen, who was head coach of the UO women's program when Porter Topmiller competed for the Ducks.

"It was kind of full-circle," she said. "I loved being able to do that there."

This spring, Porter Topmiller was expecting to encounter the UO track and field program once again. She was scheduled to speak at a banquet prior to the start of the NCAA Indoor championship meet in Albuquerque, which she now calls home. That was the week the coronavirus pandemic changed life as we know it.

Porter Topmiller was unable to share her message that week, but it is available to any who want to seek her counsel. Her first book, "Rekindle Your Dreams," is a how-to guide for getting back on track from life's inevitable challenges. Her latest, "King Here," relates her father's embrace of Christianity just prior to his death, and the message that nobody is ever "too old, too rich or too anything to meet Jesus."

Lord knows, Porter Topmiller's faith has been tested over the years. But she remains as resilient as ever.

"Our lives are a little bit out of our control," she said. "It may not be what you had planned. For those in college, it might not be going how you thought it would be. But for my life, God is in control. And if I trust you, Lord, I've got to trust you through the good times and bad times."