The Beginning

Not everyone has the words in their name that best describes what they love to do.  For me, I didn’t realize it until after I began to write articles for magazines and running club newsletters.

One day I was tinkering on my word processor and out it popped, I RUN, cleverly hidden, yet once seen very obvious, in my last name.  I played with it and finally decided on the current form, pIrRUNg.

I didn’t always run and I didn’t start to run because I saw it in my name.  I ran for completely different reasons.  Those reasons were leading me to an early grave and I realized I needed to make lifestyle changes before it was too late.

I read a magazine article that pointed out the things that you are doing in the years from 30 to 39 were the things you would be doing the rest of your life.  That sure was a scary thought!

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the things I was doing were going to kill me by the time I was 39.  Those things included being a two-pack-a-day smoker, someone who ate uncontrollably and a binge drinker.

The day this all sunk in was my 32nd birthday.  That was the day I found the answer I was looking for.  Actually, that was the day I put into practice the thing that had inspired me in the weeks prior.  Namely running like the obese lady who ran past my house everyday.

I was employed by the Kohler Company, of Kohler, Wisconsin and like many firms during the early 1980s, was put on a work furlough due to a slump in the economy.

Instead of worrying about the loss of wages I welcomed the time off to catch up on projects around our home.  The first was painting my garage.  I like to paint, but I like it even more if I am not rushed and can do a good job.  The lay off afforded me the time I needed to tackle this project.

Each day, as I faithfully stroked paint with brush in hand, an obese lady would run by my house.  After several days, I began to time her and noted there were days she would be out for an hour or more and sometimes even two hours.  Going by in her sweat-stained gray sweat suit, hood up over her head, I would hum the tune from the movie Rocky, as she reminded me of the movie with Sylvester Stallone, training to become the champion fighter.

After the garage was done, I decided it was time to make the time to take care of getting back into shape.  I had quit smoking by that time and was gaining weight because of increased awareness in my taste buds.  Everything tasted so good and if it tasted good, I would eat whatever it was until it was gone.  I had no idea of portions or of what was good for me.  The only requirement was that it had to be satisfying to my taste.

I started up a ladder, without my paintbrush in hand, climbing upon the scale that revealed my weight.  It went from the 140s, the weight I had been when I graduated from high school, back up into the high 160s.  I knew it would not be long before it reached a level that was unhealthy, the level I reached before being discharged from the U.S. army after a tour in West Germany.  That figure, 196, was in the back of my mind when I began to run on my birthday in 1980.

I had a picture taken shortly before leaving the military in December of 1969.  It was taken in a German gasthaus, holding a half-liter glass of beer, sporting my first scrawny mustache and the uniform of the day.  I was smiling because of the great tasting beer, not because I was pleased that I had let myself become obese.

Obesity had plagued me from the time I was a child.  I look back at photos and I was the chubby one of three brothers and a sister.  Off and on the weight came, depending on what I had chosen to do at the time.  If I was active, playing ball with the neighborhood kids, was eating whole foods instead of junk, everything was fine.  But most of the time I really didn’t think about it, I thought it was just natural to gain and lose weight, just as gaining height was natural.

During those days, I also learned that people could be cruel to those that are obese.  Name-calling was something I experienced often, but never took to heart.  I was fat.  I was chubby.  I was husky.  Whatever the name, it fit me. I could not deny it and eventually I realized I was obese and could do something to change it.

The summer before entering my freshmen year of high school, then called junior high, I saved my paper route money, earned at The Sheboygan Press, and bought a Jimmy Taylor weight set.  Jimmy Taylor was a running back with the Green Bay Packers and helped the team become the champions of the day.

I worked my own route, which was right next to the newspapers’ loading dock, and would pick up extra routes from other carriers to earn extra cash.  We were not a wealthy family, so each of us did what we could to buy the things we wanted.

I had seen the muscles that my older brother, Gary, developed from lifting weights and I wanted to be just like him.  Once the set was purchased I started following the program Jimmy Taylor recommended.  How could a pro-football player not inspire a kid, especially one with everything to lose (weight) and who wanted to gain (self-esteem)?

The program worked for me.  But, looking back, there was more to it than lifting weights and following the fullbacks’ training regimen.

One of the neighborhood boys, Glen Sanville, was a high school cross country runner, basketball player and all around athlete.  We were friends and he began to see me getting in shape and would ask me to run with him.  He usually ran 6 miles on either Saturday or Sunday, depending if he had a meet or not.

When he called the night before to ask if I could join him I would always say yes.  I thought it was cool to be running with a real athlete!

I wore what we all wore in those days.  I put on the same uniform I wore in gym class, white t-shirt, white shorts and white socks with Converse high tops.  Often the police would stop us and tell us that someone reported a couple of boys running around in their underwear and we assured them there was no fly in the front of our shorts.  They would laugh and we would continue on our way.

At that time, I never thought 6 miles was too difficult to cover on foot.  After all, I was 14 years old and at that age you can pretty much do anything you want to, athletically.  The police also got used to us and would just wave and let us be, even if they got reports of kids running around in their underwear.

During my high school years I maintained a pretty steady weight of between 142 and 145, and when I graduated I was at 145.  I thought that was pretty good, as it was what I weighed in 8thgrade, when I was nearly 6 inches shorter.

With the weight under control during my high school years I began to get involved with athletic activities, in the neighborhood and at school.  I especially enjoyed participating in CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) sports activities.  In summer it was softball and fall and winter basketball.

I remember my coach, a short guy like myself who encouraged us and told us we did not have to be the biggest, just the best we could be.  Coach Pat Murray wasn’t a big guy, but to me he was big in a different way.  He instilled confidence in me, something no one had ever tried to do with me.  He was successful, whether he realized it at the time or not, in convincing me I was an athlete. 

Years later, I saw him at road races that I competed in.  I kicked his butt!  He still was a big man in my book; he acknowledged my talent and encouraged me even more.  Some guys have the right stuff inside and share it with others, to make them better than they thought they would ever be.  As a coach, that is a quality that should not be taken for granted by any athlete.

I joined the swim team my junior year with the encouragement of my chemistry teacher, T.C. Butts, the swimming coach.  I thought it might help my grade in the classroom too!  What really helped was having a great lab partner in Lana Juntz.

Coach Butts had me doing the breaststroke because the guy who was a senior would not be there the following year and he needed someone to move up and he thought I was the guy.  I liked the training and the fun of being on the team, but when it came to meets I didn’t care for the pressure of competition.

I can remember catching a ride home after swim practice with my friend, Herman Dick, who had a foreign exchange student from Columbia, South America, by the name of Freddy Sanchez staying with him and his family.  He had this little car called a Metropolitan and it was a two-seater, so I had to ride in the rear window well (trunk basically) for a few miles.  It was cramped in there, but we became close in more ways than one, because of that. 

Freddy visited here one year and was surprised when he called my house and my wife, Gail, answered.  He identified himself when he called and asked who she was.  She replied Gail Goebel, so he would know her as she was in high school, and he said, “What are you doing in Roy’s house?”  She laughed and said we had married in 1968, two years after graduating from Sheboygan South High School.  It was so nice to see him and learn that he had finished college and was living and working in the U.S.

… to be continued!

Next Steps…

Going beyond 1,000 race finishes, Roy continues to …