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There was no celebration after my first victory indoors in the Knights of Columbus Games in Boston. We had to catch the midnight train back to Philadelphia. I would have enjoyed going out on the town now that the tension associated with the race was gone. Instead I found myself stretched out in a Pullman sleeper, alone with my thoughts. After a hard race I could never go to sleep—my body tingled in every muscle from the exertion undergone. So I spent the night awake listening to the clickety-clack of the wheels and the jangling of milk churns being loaded on and off the train at almost every station stop.
On Monday, back at Villanova, I reported as usual for training. Coach Jumbo Elliott took me aside and spent the afternoon schooling me on how to protect myself in my future races on the boards. My eyes were opened! I discovered if you must push an opponent there was no better place than at hip level where you could most readily upset his equilibrium. "Hold your elbows high and ready when you are being crowded" was another trick of the trade. It was a revelation to me, for I did not realize there was an art to self-defense and the administration of punishment when provoked on the track. Knowledge such as this was to help me through the preliminary heats of Olympic Games, European championships and other title races over the next few years. I was learning my trade well.
I raced again the following Friday night in the Borican 1,000 yards at the Philadelphia Inquirer meet and won in a pedestrian 2:15.5, with Tom Courtney and Harry Bright among my victims. Courtney was to win the Melbourne Olympic 800 meters in 1956 and we were to engage in an almost vicious rivalry over the next few years. Tom hated to be beaten, and much to his disgust I did just that to him almost every time we raced. A year or so after we both retired from active competition I met Tom at a B'nai B'rith dinner in New York. He spent the night moaning that I had beaten him on the last occasion we had raced, in Houston, Texas, and that he had never had an opportunity for revenge. I believe if we could have borrowed running vests and shorts on that same evening Tom would have challenged me to come outside and race along a few blocks of New York City to prove to himself that he was the better man.
Following the Inquirer meet I had my first dispute with Coach Elliott. I discovered that he had put me down to run again in the Millrose Games half mile a week or so later. It appeared I was going to have to race every weekend throughout the winter. Frankly, I felt I was being rushed and brought on too fast. I felt then this American system of race, race, race would burn me out. I wanted to run my best races for Ireland in her green international singlet and not to leave my talent and strength in the smoke-filled indoor arenas of America. I expressed such sentiments to Jumbo. He nearly blew his top. Somewhere between his threats and shouts I gathered I would run where and when I was told, or else. The "else" meant, I supposed, losing my scholarship. I lost this first argument with Jumbo, setting the pattern for the next five years, and ran in the Millrose Games. But I have no regrets. Racing every weekend did me no harm but made me strong. Even today I am grateful to Jumbo for what at the time seemed like coercing me into running. I discovered, too, that the life of an athletic scholarship student was not going to be a bed of roses—the college demanded and got its pound of flesh.
In the Millrose Games half mile in Madison Square Garden I suffered my first defeat in America, at the hands—or should I say feet—of Audun Boysen of Norway. The Madison Square Garden atmosphere was different from either Boston or Philadelphia—more exciting altogether. The crowd of 15,000 was discerning and far more vociferous. As I warmed up in the passages circling the arena I sensed the electric tension of the place and felt like a lion awaiting his entrance into the ancient circuses of Rome. Later I was to discover that this crowd of New York track nuts almost needed blood to be sated. And later still, when I began to run and win miles week after week, in far from world-shattering times, I believe these same fans would have strangled me on occasions if they had got half a chance. My relationship with the New York buffs was to be a turbulent affair with very little love on either side.
The race itself was a scorcher. Boysen ran a meet record of 1:51 flat and I struggled home in second place 15 yards down. Courtney, Gene Maynard, Harry Bright and company brought up the rear. Disappointed though I was, I had to laugh afterward. In my innocence, while in the dressing room with Boysen prior to the race, I had asked him if he were fit. Answering me in his best broken English, Boysen explained that he had no opportunity to train in snow-covered Norway, that he had a sore leg, etc., etc. And then look at what he did to me. I was discovering that to be a great runner you also had to be a pathological liar, at least when your opponents asked silly questions.
On Feb. 19, 1955 I traveled again to New York to compete in the AAU Championships. I suffered another reverse, finishing fourth in the 1,000 yards to Arnold Sowell of Pittsburgh. Yet I had the honor of competing in a world record race, for Sowell beat Boysen and ran 2:08.2 to equal the existing world best. Unfortunately though, Tom Courtney, who was third, finished ahead of me for the first time, rubbing salt into my wounds.
With all this racing, and with midterm exams coming up, there was no time to even consider pursuing the social round. My many dollar-earning enterprises were also affected and I was reduced to baby-sitting as a sole source of income. But the indoor season was almost over. A week later I anchored the Villanova Frosh to win the IC4A distance medley in New York, running a mile for the first time in my life. I have forgotten what time I ran and my only recollection of the race is how strange I felt running the longer distance. I did't particularly enjoy my first mile outing.
On March 5, the day before my 20th birthday, I celebrated with a victory in the Cardinal McIntyre 1,000-yard run, again in Madison Square Garden. This race was the finale of my first indoor season. I bobbed and turkey-trotted, as the scribes would say, to victory in a new meet mark of 2:10.1, with Tom Courtney breathing down my neck to the wire. I had my first date after the meet, doubling with Alex Breckenridge of Scotland and two girls from Rosemont College near Villanova. When a Scot and an Irishman go out on the town they really do things big. We dined the girls at Horn & Hardart's—the Automat—and spent the rest of the week ruing our spendthriftiness. Still, we had fun and, more important, I had broken the ice and had taken out an American girl.
I was generally relieved that the indoor season was over and spring was on the way. Racing every weekend, combined with the traveling involved, had proved grueling. Training on the Villanova board track out of doors in the freezing cold was not the most pleasant way to pass one's leisure hours. Some days we had to grease our faces and ears with Vaseline to protect them from the cold. We must have looked quite a sight wearing long Johns and hooded anoraks, our faces covered with grease and sweat, charging around the track.