The food was strange at first, but such quantity. The snazzy clothes the students wore—my old tweed suit, I'm sure, looked a little out of place. White bucks and chinos—soon I'd be sporting them myself. Hot dogs and hoagies and 29 flavors of ice cream. The New World was more exciting than I ever dreamed.
Within a few days I had duly registered in the School of Commerce and Finance, got myself a room in Mendel Hall, and began to attend lectures. I was delighted to find that my fellow students had a sense of humor, though perhaps a tendency to disrespect authority. Before the official class registers came out we had to sign a roll sheet at each lecture. Without fail some jokers would sign bogus names, such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley or Martin Luther. When the professor read out the roll it never failed to get a laugh. However, I did not notice him smiling. He'd obviously gone through the routine before.
Coach Elliott impressed on me the need to hit the books during my first few weeks at Villanova. This was one of the many fine pieces of advice he was to give me while I was under his direction. He seemed more concerned that I should study than train. He asked me to report to the track only three days a week.
I did not realize how astute a judge of an athlete Jumbo was the first time I worked out under his care. After seeing me run a few laps he took me aside and gave me some critical advice on my arm action ("too jerky"), head ("rolls too much") and shoulders ("too stooped"). Listening to him I began to wonder how I had managed to run at all up to then with all my deformities. Naturally I was enraged, but I kept my mouth shut. Yet somewhere in between all the criticism Jumbo said, "You'll make a miler." I was skeptical, for I had never run a mile in my life. Little did I realize that with Jumbo's care and guidance I would become a miler and an Olympic 1,500-meter champion at that.
At first I took no part in the social life at the college. Basically, I was a very shy person. I was easily embarrassed, particularly in the company of girls. There were not many girls in the college—though we had a nursing school—and most of the lads described coeds as dogs. Pretty girls were at a premium and were quickly snapped up by the men about campus. Still, any of the girls I met seemed friendly, though very sophisticated, too much so for the tastes of a simple Irish lad. I remember being introduced to a girl one day as I crossed Mendel Field. When she learned I was from Ireland she said, "Please say something." I think she expected me to sound like Barry Fitzgerald. Later I came to realize that people liked my Irish brogue even if they complained they could not understand me. Remarks such as, "Hey, Mick, take the potatoes out of your mouth so I can understand you," at first offended me, but then I learned that this sort of ribbing was intended as friendly. Coach Elliott rightly pointed out to me that if people didn't like you they would say nothing to you at all. Before long I was answering back the remarks with a repartee of my own—sometimes with interest, I might add.
It did not take me too long to realize the almighty power of the dollar. Jim Moran took me caddying one day to the Radnor Valley Country Club. I got out, and after carrying two giant bags for 18 holes I was paid $5 and given a dollar tip by the golfers, certainly not for giving them the right clubs. Never having played golf before, or ever caddied, I was as likely to produce the putter on the tee and the driver on the green. But $6—I was rich. Every day that I didn't have to train, and on weekends, too, I hared off to Radnor or the Over-brook Golf Club and caddied for some misfortunate golfers. I enjoyed the exercise, the fresh air and the money.
Hurricane Hazel became another source of income. I spent many weeks cutting up fallen trees for local people—at a dollar an hour. I also branched out into the baby-sitting business at 50� an hour. And painting, household repairs, car waxing, gardening—you name it, I did it. I was becoming a regular tycoon.
One night I was working at the field house as a parking attendant. There was a big affair going on, and all sorts of dignitaries were arriving. A sleek black giant of a Cadillac drove up to the steps of the field house and this tall, distinguished-looking gentleman stepped out and announced himself to me as " Farley, New York." Taking his outstretched hand I replied, " Delany, Dublin, Ireland." We engaged in a short, friendly chat. You can imagine my amazement when I learned afterward that I had been talking to the ex-Postmaster General of the United States, the Honorable James A. Farley.
In November, approximately two months after my arrival in the U.S., I traveled to New York for my first race in the Villanova colors. Jumbo Elliott entered me in the freshman three-mile cross-country race for the Intercollegiate AAAA Championships, held in Van Cortlandt Park. It was a big occasion for me and I was anxious to do well. I had never run a cross-country race in my life. Van Cortlandt Park's terrain was as dry and as hard as a bone on that particular November day. It was a far cry from the green, green grass of home. And cross-country, my eye! The course ran across the hard-packed plains of the park, along bridle paths, up the sides of rocky hills, across public roads, in and out between the trees, where one false step meant an abrupt finis, and eventually back on the plains again for a long run into the finishing tape. At the start we were stretched out in a great line across the park, and then the starter raised his arm and fired the gun. Displaying more heart than pace sense, I stayed up with the leaders in the early stages and was soon caught up in the exhilaration of it all. I felt as though I were participating on foot in the Charge of the Light Brigade.
But my fancy thoughts were unceremoniously knocked out of me as we reached the first turn. In the "squeeze in" for position I tasted for the first time the sharp elbows of my American opponents. And educated elbows they had, too. After receiving two or three strategic belts in the ribs, I realized this was war. I was facing the most competitive nation in the world...a factor that would provide me with thrilling competition in many a race for the next five years, indoors and out.