SI Vault
 
They All Laugh When the Wobbling Walkers Race By
Harry Paxton
January 13, 1964
Robert F. Mimm, a 39-year-old Levittown, Pa. householder with a wife and six children, is a race walker. He qualified as one of the six walkers on the 1960 U.S. Olympic squad but he was not the nation's best then, and there is little likelihood that he ever will be. Win or lose, though, he is dedicated to a time-consuming sport that strikes most outsiders as absurd—a sport that calls for the maximum in punishing effort but offers no corresponding reward.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 13, 1964

They All Laugh When The Wobbling Walkers Race By

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Robert F. Mimm, a 39-year-old Levittown, Pa. householder with a wife and six children, is a race walker. He qualified as one of the six walkers on the 1960 U.S. Olympic squad but he was not the nation's best then, and there is little likelihood that he ever will be. Win or lose, though, he is dedicated to a time-consuming sport that strikes most outsiders as absurd—a sport that calls for the maximum in punishing effort but offers no corresponding reward.

Race walking is the art of moving as fast as possible without actually running, and the good walkers achieve speeds of seven, eight and even nine miles an hour. This requires mastery of a technique that is much more difficult than running—and in many ways more tiring, according to some men who have tried both. Yet when race walkers go on public display, with their exaggerated strides, their peculiar hip action, their high-pumping arms, they inspire no admiring murmurs. The average bystander's invariable reaction is to start laughing. This doesn't dismay a confirmed race walker like Bob Mimm, however.

Mimm is of Irish extraction, but he has the phlegmatic manner associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch people around Lancaster, where he grew up. He has the frame of a thin man—5 feet 11 inches and 150 pounds—and the muscles of a heavyweight. An only child, he was raised by his paternal grandparents. His grandfather, a guard at the Armstrong Linoleum plant in Lancaster for about 40 years, was a man who set great store by physical fitness, and he installed exercise equipment in the backyard for the boy to use. In high school and college (Millersville State, near Lancaster) Mimm went out for sports that were a test of individual effort—wrestling, gymnastics, cross country and track—rather than team play.

He went overseas in both World War II and the Korean war. For a time following Korea he had trouble getting enough sports competition to satisfy his appetite. One day in 1955 Mimm saw an announcement of a 15-mile walking race in New Jersey and decided to enter. He barely managed to go the distance and stumbled across the finish line exhausted and nauseated. His feet were so sore and blistered the next day he could not stand on them. But he came right back for more punishment, starting with a two-mile sprint walk in Philadelphia the following week.

Today Mimm's whole regimen is geared to race walking. A schoolteacher by training, he switched for a time to working in the local post office because it paid better. Two years ago he became a civilian officer in the Army Education Center at Fort Dix, N.J. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he leaves his house at 7 a.m. and drives his 1958 Ford station wagon over back roads to Fort Dix, where he works from 8 to 5. At quitting time Mimm heads either to the Pemberton High track near Fort Dix or to whatever high school track is available in Levittown. He changes to his workout clothes in the car.

Not much stops Mimm

Once on the track he engages for about an hour in a race walker's version of interval training, interspersing walking sprints of varying lengths with easy jogs around the quarter-mile oval. An active storm or a gooey track might stop him, but not gloom of night. A policeman who detected Mimm on the track after dark one winter evening was highly suspicious of such curious behavior. He went so far as to search Minim's car before letting him resume his workout.

Usually it is after 7 p.m. when Mimm gets home from his Monday-Wednesday-Friday sessions. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he is on a 12:30-to-9 p.m. shift at Fort Dix. So, instead of training at the end of the day, he does conditioning work at home in the morning—pushups, dumbbell routines and assorted other calisthenics.

Over the weekend, if there is no race to enter, Mimm gets in several hours of roadwork on Sundays, generally driving into Philadelphia to team up with fellow walkers of the Penn Athletic Club.

"I'd like to get out Saturdays, too," Mimm says, "but a wife has the idea that it's bad enough if you go out Sunday. She has other things she wants me to do on Saturday."

Continue Story
1 2 3
Related Topics
  ARTICLES GALLERIES COVERS
Bob Mimm 1 0 0
Fort Dix 2 0 0
Lancaster 9 0 0
Theresa Mimm 1 0 0
Levittown 10 0 0