A man's stride
betrays whether he has found his own way...I love to run swiftly. And though
there are swamps and thick melancholy on earth, whoever has light feet runs
even over mud and dances as on swept ice.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
It was the early
spring of 1974 and the kudzu vines began to leaf and spread. Menfolk in
Wrightsville, Ga., put up their long guns and, hearing frogsong, broke out the
bass gear. Baseball season opened. Things burgeoned.
The local track
and field coach was stirred, as only an athlete-outdoorsman can be, by the
warming weather. Tom Jordan was glad to be back outside, in the sun, with his
track team. A strong, able-bodied, accessible man, he was accustomed to
questions from Wrightsville's youngsters with a yen for self improvement and he
took their questions seriously, even though he knew most of his suggestions
would be followed briefly, if at all. He remembers one of those
youngsters—Herschel Walker—with special clarity.
12 when he came to me wanting to know how to get big and strong," Jordan
says, "and I told him what I told the other kids who asked me. 'Do
push-ups, sit-ups and run sprints,' I said. He just thanked me quietly and
walked away. To be honest, I didn't give it much thought. Herschel was short
for his age [about 5'3", 100 pounds], and he wasn't particularly fast, even
though he had some older brothers and sisters who were excellent athletes.
time I paid him any mind was that coming fall. I hadn't seen much of him during
the summer and when I saw him in September I was amazed at how he'd muscled up.
I asked him what he'd been doing and he smiled and said, 'Just running, Coach,
and doing my push-ups.' He was getting faster, too, but back then I mainly
remember how strong he was for a boy his age. Later that year, when he was 13,
we had the tumbling mats out one day and he and I got to wrestling, and damned
if he didn't flip me once, big as I was."
But though young
Herschel had grown larger, stronger and faster, he was still shorter than most
of his classmates, weaker than his father and two older brothers and slower
than not only a half dozen or so of the boys his age at school but also slower
than one of his sisters, Veronica, 18 months his senior, who's now a sprinter
for Georgia. Yet he was not discouraged, because he was gaining on them, and
because he felt he knew how to gain still more. Coach Jordan had told him how,
a year before. Push-ups, sit-ups and sprints. Push-ups, sit-ups and
During that first
year Walker had done these exercises every day, unless rain kept him from
sprinting along the road leading from his house down to the highway. Jordan had
never said how much to do, just to do those three things, regularly. To
Herschel, "regularly" meant every single day, and by the end of that
critical first year he had done more than 100,000 push-ups, more than 100,000
sit-ups and had sprinted nearly half a million yards. He almost always did his
push-ups and sit-ups in the evening, while he was either studying or watching
television or, more usually, both. During every commercial break he would pump
out a quick 25 push-ups and 25 sit-ups or would alternate the push-ups and
sit-ups, doing 50 push-ups during one break, then 50 sit-ups during the next,
until he had accumulated approximately 300 of each.
As for his
running, throughout each summer and on almost every school day in clement
weather he would run series after series of short sprints, most of them 30
yards or less, most of them up the hill to his house. Many of them were run
against Veronica or, later, his younger brother Lorenza. "We'd wait till
the sun set in the summertime," says Veronica, "and then we'd
high Herschel was to follow this remarkable regimen every day, every year. He
grew taller, and by the ninth grade he stood about 5'10" and weighed 185
pounds, and the muscles of his chest and shoulders and thighs were thick and
full. But a couple of boys in his grade still could outrun him. And he had yet
to beat Veronica. The prescription? Push-ups, sit-ups and sprints; push-ups,
sit-ups and sprints. And prayer.
"One of the
things I used to pray for every night was for God to let me beat Veronica,"
Walker recalls. "I promised that I'd train hard and live a Christian life
if only He'd let me get faster." Finally, after his sophomore year in high
school, he (and maybe He as well) raced Veronica for perhaps the thousandth
time, and this time Walker beat her. And then he beat her again.