Obsessions being what they are, Al Feuerbach cannot say exactly when the need to throw the shot came upon him. He just knows it has been with him a long time. Perhaps significantly, it predates his habit of biting his nails.
On the other hand, his mother, Doris Kucera Feuerbach, can pinpoint the year, 1962, when her son first turned the lawn into something resembling an early photo of the moon and the neighbor ladies on DeGroat Street in Preston, Iowa complained about those "awful ugly holes." By his mother's reckoning then, Al Feuerbach has had the urge since he was 14, and to her mind he has indulged it long enough. In fact, this plain-spoken Iowa lady wishes that the second oldest of her five sons, three years out of college, would find a job, any job would do at this point, and get married. In short, she wants her son to give up shotputting.
"Why should I?" says Al Feuerbach, the world's only full-time amateur shotputter. "It is the one thing I like to do. It is the only thing I want to do."
Since he first ruined his parents' lawn, Allan Dean Feuerbach (pronounced fearbock) has followed the thudding ball from Preston (pop. 950) to Emporia ( Kansas) College (enrollment 600). He has crossed the U.S. and heaved his way through Europe. En route he has four times thrown over 70 feet—including a 70'2" effort earlier this month—one of five shotputters to have ever done so, and on four occasions set world indoor records.
In general he has amazed the experts and exceeded the best wishes of his friends and family, except for his father the veterinarian, who empathizes with grandiose dreams. Indeed, Dr. Orlyn Gene Feuerbach is willing to underwrite his son's assault on the world shotput record. So far Al Feuerbach has not taken him up. Instead he lives frugally in San Jose, Calif. in an apartment furnished largely with mattresses, and is in no wise discontented with his lot.
"All I want to do for the next 15 years is to throw the iron ball," he says, "throw it as far as science, technology and hard work will take it. That could be 75, 80 feet or more."
If Feuerbach's size had kept pace with his dream, his 15-year plan would be more practical. Unfortunately, from the beginning his obsession far outstripped his growth. In an event famous for its whales, 6'1", 250-pound Al Feuerbach is barely bait. By the laws of applied levers and comparative masses, he is disadvantaged. In a word, he is too small to be a world-class shotputter, which tends to make his accomplishments all the more dramatic in the comparative. However, Feuerbach can deal only in the ultimate. And such is the nature of his passion that he has total recall not only of every throw he has made in the past 11 years, but of every remark directed at him concerning his event.
At the drop of a shot, he will recall that in 1964 his older brother Gary told him, "You'll never throw that far again." The brotherly vote of no-confidence came on the occasion of Al's setting a new Preston High School record of 47'9�", which beat Gary's by half an inch. "At that time my body weight was 165," Al adds. A few years later the Emporia track coach told Feuerbach, "You'll be the smallest man, the only shotputter under 200 pounds, to break 60 feet."
"The coach thought that was important." says Feuerbach. "I believe it isn't even fly speck."
The prize slight of Feuerbach's collection is an offhand comment by Randy Matson. the 275-pound world-record holder (71'5�"), who is now a pro. After Feuerbach had thrown 62'8" to finish third at the 1970 Kansas Relays, winner Matson said, "For a feller your size, you're throwing good."