In early September, on the eve of his 50th birthday—and the first-ever Hershberger Games—millionaire oilman Jim Hershberger of Wichita, Kans. had readied all his supplies—among them, nine pairs of athletic shoes, three types of rackets, nine types of balls, Milky Way bars, DMSO, Zwieback and bananas. "I've been working on this for more than a year," he said before the big day. "I haven't overlooked anything."
Preparations for his one-day, 18-sport endurance test and extravaganza included mailing out $6,000 worth of spectator invitations (rolled in plastic relay batons), enlisting some 50 athletes as opponents and teammates and even training under miler Jim Ryun's high school coach, J.D. Edmiston. But the 5'9", 142-pound Hershberger, an obsessive competitor whose sporting career has resulted in 51 broken bones, 191 stitches and 17 major operations, had completely ignored Edmiston's oft-repeated question: "Jim, what are you trying to do to yourself?"
"I figure I'll be running maybe 20, 25 miles, plus, of course, the bicycling, swimming, wrestling, water skiing and jet skiing," said Hershberger, who would be the Hershberger Games' only official entrant and who was only slightly concerned about how his bad shoulder, bad foot and bad neck would affect his performance. "You know, they wouldn't let me into the Superstars," he said. "I tried. I told them I'd pay $50,000 to anyone who could beat me. Maybe I'm not enough of a draw, but I could win that thing easier than climbing a set of stairs."
Hershberger has become almost a legend in Wichita because of his flamboyant ways. In response to dares, he has literally run through 180 holes of golf in 13 hours (tearing knee cartilage in the process) and dived into perilously shallow waters (chipping one tooth). He now lives with his family in a $2.7 million, nine-bathroom mansion to which he invited 1,400 guests for the housewarming party. He has masterminded all sorts of fund-raising schemes—and donated a sizable share of his own fortune—to keep alive Wichita's charities, track meets and indoor-soccer franchise. "We knew that by calling this event the Hershberger Games," said Jim's close friend, Bob Lida, the head of a local ad agency, "we would capture people's imaginations."
Hershberger's previous sporting achievements are difficult to nail down because the legend of Jim Hershberger has become confused with the facts. While he had an above-average track career at the University of Kansas as a quarter-miler and at various times has held three national track records for older runners, he also claims to have been nationally ranked in racquetball, an alternate on the 1948 U.S. Olympic wrestling team and to have run the world's second-fastest 220-yard dash in 1954, none of which is true. "I've won awards in 14 different sports," claims Hershberger, who remains a thoroughly likable character despite his self-appreciation and inflation. "In fact, the Masters Track Association named me the most versatile athlete of all rime." In fact, the association never really lauded him as such although its publication did run an article in which Hershberger himself made that claim.
Nevertheless, fewer than 20 people—most of them from local TV stations—showed up for the chilly predawn tennis match that marked the official opening of the games at 5 a.m. on Sept. 2. "This has to be better than not sleeping," said Hershberger, hitting practice shots in a NO GUTS NO GLORY T shirt. He said that he had gotten up in the middle of the night to eat some cheddar cheese and taco sauce. "I had to have something different," he said. "I had overloaded on carbohydrates and kept going to the bathroom." Now he inspected a small jug at courtside containing what Edmiston called "power punch."
"What's this?" Hershberger asked.
"Bourbon and Seven," said Edmiston, grinning.
Hershberger put down the jug, then dived, twisted and crashed his way through a 6-4 first-set loss to insurance agent Ric Knorr. Hershberger scraped the skin off both knees and one hip during the tennis match, and had begun to curse himself. He later found out that he had a hairline fracture of his left wrist, the result of a backward fall off the court's wire fence; Hershberger had tried to run up the fence to make a shot. "Hand me my stick," he said to an onlooker. He used the two-foot wooden rod as a lever to work the stiffness out of his shoulder, which he had hurt 1� months earlier when attempting—on yet another dare—to duplicate Sugar Ray Leonard's front flip after his knockout of Ayub Kalule.
The stick seemed to work a certain magic: Hershberger won a time-curtailed second set 2-1, and then went on to defeat Knorr again, 15-5, 15-7, in badminton. After easily beating Paul Porvaznik, the publisher of the Wichitan magazine, in a 100-yard swimming race, Hershberger was pumped up. "Gosh! I'm not tired at all," he said. "I feel better than when I woke up."