Bragg puffs harder, his cigar begins pumping out smoke like an out-of-tune diesel tractor.
Bragg's godfather, Chico Clemente, who lives in Philadelphia, says, "There are people who think he's a big, crude oaf. To that I say, well, he is a little crude at times." A longtime friend, Al Cantello, the cross-country coach at the Naval Academy, thinks part of Bragg's problem is that he returned home after the Olympics with the "personality of a maggot." Yet, Cantello says, "Don is simply a maverick with vision."
Through the ever testing life that scares,
Leading us repetitiously thru our nightmares.
What truly makes us stand erect;
Tis man's pursuit that gains him respect.
—HUNTER, by Bragg
There has always been evidence that Bragg is his own man. As a youngster he would take his own sawdust to meets to improve the pole-vault pits. At Villanova, while other students dived into the swimming pool from the diving board, Bragg headed in from the rafters. To prove something to himself, he once held a lighted cigar against his wrist; he wears the scar. These days, with minimum provocation, he'll plunge some 60 feet off the bridge over the Mullica River near his home. "I want to know if the fear will conquer me or I will conquer the fear," he says. "It's a challenge. Life is a challenge, so let's make it more exciting." Bragg's friend and business partner, Frank Ciko, says, "Don has excellent rapport—with himself. He just can't accept the fact he's 44."
"The toughest thing is competing in life when there's no clapping," Bragg says.
Bragg has written a book of poetry, Reflections of Gold. The author's name is given as (Tarzan) Don Bragg. Publishers were not impressed, so Bragg is having 5,000 copies published at his own expense. "Some of it is fair," says Bragg, "some is poor, and some is the work of a genius." If one were limited to a single descriptive adjective, "poor" would serve nicely.
When asked too soon to try once more
We pass out upon the floor.
—DISSIPATION, by Bragg
Even his friends find Bragg's literary work hard to defend. "Well, Don likes it," Cantello says. "At first I thought it was a put-on. Some of it is very badly constructed. But he's absolutely without guile."
For his part, Bragg snorts, "I don't know one damn thing about iambic pentameter. But poetry has been made so confusing. What I want to do is write popular poetry that communicates. It's not literary and it's not classic. Sometimes when the substance was good but the rhythm wasn't, I still kept it." He confesses, however, that if he were not an Olympic champion, absolutely no one would take his poetry seriously. "But that doesn't mean it's not good," he says. He also says, "I'm a multidimensional guy who thinks and feels with the best of them." Bragg swaggers when he sits.
He quotes Greeley, Kipling and Socrates and uses the word "cognizant" a lot. He says—dead seriously—that "what I'm trying to do is find the key to the universe. I'm close, real close." And then he reflects, "I'm one in a million." For once Bragg might be underestimating himself.