That sort of practicality plays well in Edinboro. The superstar athlete has just finished putting new siding on his modest farmhouse, so now he is painting it. Most athletes walk through their homes and point out their trophies in places of honor in every room. Baumgartner notes the door he fixed, the porch he repaired, the wall he is planning to knock out. He helps his wife, Linda, with the chores. He tends to the large garden out back. He even bakes the Christmas cookies.
Bruce and Linda met at Indiana State, where she was a student trainer. Bruce limped into her life on a bad ankle. "It was love at first taping," Linda says.
On their first date, after he had ice cream and she, because of a diet, picked at some oatmeal, he shook her hand good-night. The second time they dated, they played backgammon. "Well," said Bruce, "what do you want to do now?"
"This," answered Linda, kissing her shy Big Lug. They were married in 1982. Each January 24, the anniversary of their first date, they celebrate with oatmeal and ice cream.
Baumgartner makes a little money speaking; the U.S. Olympic Committee gives him a small stipend: a shoe company kicks in $1,000 more. Together he and Linda make $35,000 or so in salaries from Edinboro State; she also works in the athletic department, as an assistant trainer. "We don't need much," Baumgartner says. "Besides, it could be worse. I could have been an archer."
Baumgartner doesn't allow his dedication to wrestling to get in the way of his sense of humor. He even gets a kick out of watching professional wrestling. One favorite is Steve Williams, a.k.a. Dr. Death, whom Baumgartner wrestled in college. "I killed Dr. Death," says Baumgartner. "Is that possible?"
For diversion Baumgartner collects things: model trains, Russian matrioshka dolls, shot glasses, coins, stamps, Olympic pins—items of small value except to himself. His wrestling titles fit in nicely. "You don't make money wrestling," says Blatnick. "You spend money."
Baumgartner has bad knees. Sometime after he rounds the athletic corner, the right one will need reconstructive surgery. When his knees turn traitorous and turn him over to the enemy, or when there are no more challenges to be met, or when he simply reshuffles his priorities, Baumgartner will head back to school for his doctorate in Industrial Arts, eventually to become a college professor. Teaching and motivating appeal to him. It sort of runs in the family.
At various entrances to Haledon, N.J., there are seven signs noting that the town is the HOME OF BRUCE BAUMGARTNER, OLYMPIC CHAMPION. Big Bob did not put the signs up, but he made sure someone did. Big Bob no longer is the chief of Haledon's volunteer fire department as he was from 1971 to '74, but he still is a familiar figure around town, and he helps out whenever he's needed. When Big Bob meets a poor kid, or a handicapped kid, or just a kid who looks as if he could use a boost, he writes down the youngster's name and has Bruce send a picture of himself wearing his gold medal from the 1984 Olympics, with a message of encouragement. Big Bob tells those discouraged youngsters about his son. How Bruce was a C-student in high school. How he couldn't wrestle much. But how he kept at it. And how, down the stretch when it counted, Bruce did just fine.