In those lean years the Tegens supplemented their income by performing around northern Germany, like the Trapp family singers. Soon Rudolph started a youth movement to atone for his involvement in the war and to preserve the folklore, songs and other cultural traditions of eastern Germany, where he was born. Peter and his brothers were leaders in that movement, helping to organize plays, performances, camping trips and other activities.
In spite of the hunger that at times led the brothers to fight over the bread their parents gave them, the youngest Tegen regards those years as an adventure. "They have not left any scars," he says. "I don't feel I was that much deprived since I gained so many other things."
Perseverance, a long-term vision and a love for the freedom of movement were the gifts Tegen brought to the U.S. in 1973. He also arrived with graduate degrees in English and sport sciences from the University of Freiburg and an impressive coaching resume. The erstwhile banana deliveryman had returned to the Olympics, this time as coach of the 1972 Peruvian track team and of the reigning South American women's 100-meter champion, Maria Luisa Vilca.
"He walked into my office and said he wanted to help coach track," recalls Nordeen, who was Tegen's boss for 17 years. "He had just finished coaching in something like 14 countries, and I thought, I can't believe this is happening. At that time, anyone who wanted to coach women and had some experience was welcomed with open arms. Wisconsin was really fortunate."
That first year Tegen, too, welcomed all comers. Cindy Bremser, a junior, saw a flyer announcing the creation of the team and joined because she thought it sounded like fun, though she had never run competitively. But even Bremser had more experience than Gilda Hudson (now Hudson-Winfield), who had never competed in any sport. A freshman lonely for her native New Orleans, Hudson joined the team after seeing its members enjoying themselves as they ran. The next season Bremser won a place on the national track team for the first of 13 consecutive years. Two years later at the 1976 Big Ten championships Hudson won the 100, took second in the 220 and ran a leg for the winning 440 relay team.
"It was phenomenal for Peter to take a little lump of clay and turn her into a champion," says Hudson-Winfield, now a Chicago attorney and a member of the Wisconsin athletic board. She attributes her success to Tegen's strength-and-stamina training. She remembers Tegen taking her and the other sprinters out to a local ski hill to run stairs and hills, a pioneering practice at the time, and having to run scores of intervals.
Bremser's workouts involved running up stairs sideways while wearing a vest filled with small bags of sand, and chasing a moped around the track while attached to the moped with surgical tubing. The latter technique was intended to increase Bremser's speed by getting her to turn her legs over more quickly. "Every year he'd develop some new exercise or running program to build upon previous strengths," says Bremser, who trained with Tegen throughout her career. "I don't think I would have gotten as far as I did if it weren't for him."
"Peter exuded a championship mentality," Hudson-Winfield says. "If you worked under Peter you knew you had worked well in practice, and you had the times to take on anybody." Wisconsin runners also knew, then as now, that they would have a race plan, as Jenny Kraeger did in 1991, when she and her coach plotted to have her sprint the 11th of 25 laps in the 10,000-meter race at the Big Ten outdoor track championships. Kraeger followed the plan perfectly, and none of her competitors recovered from the surprise tactic.
Tegen smiles when reminded of that race and of the runner, a woman who was "full of fire" like himself and who won only a year after walking on to the track team. And' then he thinks of the crop of runners he's training this fall and the plans he has for them in this year's cross-country nationals. "The truth is there are new challenges out there every day," he says. "And that's what's fun."