A Racewalkers Life
You may have heard the story before. “I walked barefoot to school braving all kinds of weather. That experience made me who I am”. In my case the story is true, except for the part about footwear. In our family of eight everyone had shoes.
Kindergarten started shortly thereafter in Port Chester, New York.
Years later when I arrived at Stepinac High School and saw the banked outdoor wooden track I was intrigued. Papa, my dad, gave a different order. “I need you to help around the house, every day”. And high school athletics never materialized.
Chattanooga and Missouri
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga was a great place for a young, optimistic, beer drinking, Yankee. There I encountered professors who profoundly changed my life. Dr. Spornick spun down the aisle put his hand on my shoulder and proclaimed “How can this Yankee be the only one in the class who knows who founded the city of Chattanooga”. Dr Koch coached me through the complexities of Industrial Engineering. Dean Mildram was my guide and friend when I became the first Yankee to be elected President of the Student Government Association. But it was Major Don Graney of ROTC who recognized me as a leader.
Ironically, as a graduate student in the School of Engineering at the University of Missouri in Columbia I learned of the town’s native son the great American race walker and later Olympic walking medalist Larry Young.
Keep Walking – Today Is Not My Time To Die
As a US Army Lieutenant in Vietnam I cursed my master’s degree when still another colonel asked me to move to his headquarters. Lieutenant Ken Rodgers from Cleveland, Ohio drove me by jeep all day to the city of Pleiku. There I met the colonel. He understood when I pleaded to stay with my men at a jungle tent camp called Woolly Bully 11. “It’s all right Tom”, he told me, “Lieutenant Rogers will be my aide”.
The helicopter inspecting my road work cruised just above the colorful jungle canopy. Without warning, machine gun bullets shredded the rotor and tore through the passengers. Moments passed – and then a general, the Colonel and Lieutenant Rogers were dead. No, this was not my day to die.
.Finally A Job!
Brooklyn, New York November 1970.
I succeeded in landing a wonderful job a s an Engineer with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer in Brooklyn, New York. My race waking training took me through the decaying streets of Brooklyn and the middle class enclaves of Queens. I soon began walking to raise money for many charitable causes.
A First Race
Colombia, Missouri June 1974
“Get him mommy. You can beat him”, the little boy hollered. I walked as fast as I could always maintaining my form. But the mommy closed in. Another child screamed and clapped as this determined mom crossed the finish line ahead of me!
This was a ten kilometer race. I had seen it advertised in The Ohio Race Walker and flew from Puerto Rico to the race. Strangely, once again I had been spirited back to Columbia. I did not win the race but for sure I was now ready to become a full fledged race walker.
In September 1975 I had the great honor of having been selected a White House Fellow. The program gave promising young leaders the opportunity to have a sabbatical in the Federal Government, to work for a Cabinet level official and to live in Washington, D.C. I served for one year as a Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. And this wonderful experience set me off race walking in Africa, Canada, and in many cities in the U.S. during White House Fellows education trips.
But a Tortoise is Supposed to be a Hero
New York, November 1976.
I was cold, wet, sick, hungry, depressed and proud to be a race walker. Fear distracted me. This part of Central Park was dark. No one else was around. I vomited. I waked fast, or was it slow, as I passed the 26 mile banner showing the end of the New York City Marathon. The crowd, the crowd, where were they?
One Million Strides For Mankind
Since those early days I have completed many marathons and even more ultra marathons. Today armed with a life time of race walking experience I am still in the fight to achieve athletic success and use my talents to in some small way help save the world!