When Writer-Reporter Bob Sullivan, a convivial sort, closes his door, we know a big story is in the works. Assigned to special projects 19 months ago, Sullivan has worked with the aplomb of Sam Spade on, among other things, stories about cocaine in the NFL and acid rain and now has co-authored, with Senior Editor Jerry Kirshenbaum, a piece on the fitness boom—or bust—which begins on page 74.
The assignment that really gave my mother pause was a 1981 story on murder in jai alai," Sullivan says. "An hour after I left an interview in Miami, some windows of the building where the interview was conducted were shattered by bullets from a high-powered rifle." The fitness interviews at high schools across the country were a lot easier on Mrs. Sullivan's nerves.
Despite the occasional cloak-and-dagger aspect of his job, Sullivan calls himself "just your average Sluggo": someone who owns a bowling ball and emulates the lifestyle of Oscar Madison. But if Sully is a Sluggo, Sluggos must be a versatile lot, because he also enjoys the music of Elvis Costello, the essays of E.B. White, the movies of John Sayles and the fine art of jitterbugging.
Sullivan launched his journalistic career in Chelmsford, Mass. "In high school I wrote football epics for the Chelmsford Newsweekly," he says. "They paid me 15 cents an inch, and I think my story on the Chelmsford- Billerica Thanksgiving game in 1970 was something like seven pages long."
At Dartmouth, Sullivan played for the tennis team, skied, hiked and worked toward graduating cum laude in English. After this, he earned a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, but before entering the real world he taught tennis at a country club in Franconia, N.H. This way station had its advantages, among them Sullivan's getting to hit a few balls with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. In 1978 Sullivan took a job with New Hampshire Profiles magazine, where he soon became managing editor.
Sullivan moved to New York in 1980 to join SI and started a small fitness boom of his own. "The skiing in Manhattan was lousy," he observes, so he took up running and is now a member of a group of SI staffers who regularly change into running gear and take a lunchtime five-miler through Central Park. He also lifts weights in his SoHo loft and plays a mean game of squash. As a result, Sullivan has trimmed off "a bunch of pounds" in the past year. "All without giving up beer," he says with a grin.