Remembering 1968 II
Bill Long 7/30/06
In Honor Of Judge Jack Nevin
After football season ended in California in 1967 (my sophomore year), I found the track program. The first person I met was Jack Nevin, then a junior, a shot putter and discus thrower who was exactly a year older than I was and a committed and very knowledgeable weight man. Jack would end up throwing a 55'9 1/2", if I remember correctly, his senior year (with a discus mark of about 155')--giving him the 4th best mark in that event in Menlo-Atherton HS history. He had thrown about 41 feet his sophomore year. Jack welcomed me as if he had known me since infancy, and we became fast friends. He introduced me both to the Palo Alto Health Club, a large weight-room on the second floor of an old building on University Ave. in Palo Alto, as well as the "culture" of weight lifting. Thus, I knew about steroids and "supplements" long before anyone talked about them outside of a fairly narrow circle of body builders, weight-lifters and track and field weight men. I never took anything (I was probably afraid to do so), but I learned some stories about an Austrian guy named Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had just won a "Mr. World" title, and others. In any case, I began to "pump iron" seriously after football season, and I eagerly awaited the coming of track season.
I was surprised to realize that track season began in California on February 1. In New England we would be lucky to get in a meet before April 15; in any case, I recall going up to Lowell HS in San Francisco for a Feb. 1 meet. Lowell had a great discus thrower, and and all eyes were on him. I don't remember how I did--I think I threw about 37'. Thus, I was picking up where I "left off" from my "huge" heave in August 1967 back in Connecticut. But no one knew me, and I was quite content with that.
The first time I really believed, however, that I could actually get close to Kennedy's record was at the Blossom Hill Relays in San Jose in early March. Coach Yanicks was kind enough to enter me, even though I wasn't one of his top athletes. I was amazed with the number of shot putters--about 55 entered in the competition. It gave me such a sense of competition and such an encouragement, even though no one "encouraged" me, that I threw 41'9". I couldn't believe it. I felt I was gliding across the ring like a Greek god. It still wasn't that great a mark, but for me it was very affirming.
Then, as the season wore on, I gradually improved more. I didn't know if I would break Larry Kennedy's record, but then, at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, probably in early April, I did it. I threw 43'9 1/2". I felt as if I had just won the Presidency. It was the first time in my life I remember "breaking a record" of any kind, and I wanted to taste that moment forever. Unfortunately I couldn't, since Jack Nevin had engineered there to be a "first ever" (and last ever, as it turned out) "weightman's relay" team, where the hulks competed against each other in a 4 X 110 yard relay. I would run the first leg. The only two problems were that I had never run a sprint before (I didn't know how to use starting blocks) and the guy I was running against was a weightman/sprinter, who absolutely left me in the dust. Thus, my triumph was tempered by the reality that I was buried in the (non-counting) weightman's relay.
I thought that once you set a record, you retired and took trips around the world. I felt the same as when I hit a home run when I was 11 in a little league game. A story ran in the local paper the next week (a little blurb on the sports page) saying that "Long" had "hit a home run." I figured that such an act was worthy of worldwide recognition. But my track and field season had not yet ended. The district and league championships impended. Though I had no chance to place at either of them, I managed to heave 44'7" at the former and then 45'10 1/2" at the latter. Jack Nevin, who was in the flight after I was in the latter event, came running over to me after I had thrown my life-time-best and said, "Long, how far was that?" He was pleased that I was doing well, and he capped off a great junior season that day, if I recall, by throwing nearly 50'.
But that was to be the extent of my record-setting activity in life. Though I worked out during the summer, my attention turned to football beginning July 29 (when two a day workouts began for football). I was a starter on the varsity team as a junior, which gave me great pride, but was injured in the first game of the season. The injury (knee) ended my football career and set back my track career. I never again did well in either, though I managed at 48'4 1/2" as a senior and, in college, won one freshman meet (Brown v. Yale) when I threw the 16 lb. shot about 43'. But the injury in September 1968 ended, for all practical purposes, my meteoric rise in the shot put and my chances to be one of the premier high school shot putters in the state.
The events of Spring 1968 are more than two or three worlds removed from me now, but I still know the boy and the desire which captured me at that time. It was then, and it is over, but I can easily transport myself back to that time. I still hear Jack Nevin's voice encouraging me; I still see the M-A shot put pit. I still feel the incredible ease of throwing 45'10 1/2'' at the SPAL meet early in May 1968 at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. Sometimes it seems as if my mental world is still frozen there--frozen in my success. But then, I "recover" and realize that I am back in 2006, and that things call me and tasks impend. I am grateful, however, for these hours of return to another time and place. Anyone with a memory can appreciate it.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long