No Stroll In The Park
The 38-year-old DeWitt has been race walking since he was a sophomore at the University of WisconsinParkside. He got into the sport almost by chance. As a member of the school's track team, he had tried just about every track and field event, without much success. During one meet, there was a sudden opening for a race walker. DeWitt gave it a try. "It was the first time I ever won,'' he says. The victory sparked his interest in the event.
In 1972, only two years later, he was named all-American and took part in the Olympic trials, placing in the top 20. He has been a confirmed race walker--and one of the best in the United States--ever since.
DeWitt's commitment to the sport goes beyond racing. He has coached high school walkers and is currently the coach of the women's track and cross-country teams at his college alma mater. He also serves as an associate coach with the U.S. national racewalking team.
Juggling work, walking, coaching, and family hasn't been a problem. After school, he drives to the nearby university where he coaches his walkers until about 5:30 P.M. He works out with them or by himself and is usually home for dinner with his wife, Pam, and their four children.
The tough part comes when he has a meet on the West Coast. He leaves his class early on Friday, races on Sunday, and then takes a red-eye flight back Sunday night. "It makes for some pretty tired Monday mornings,'' he says.
As a competitor on the national and international race circuit, DeWitt has created an informal network of coaches and walkers who share data and advice. He has become a kind of clearinghouse for information on the sport, which in the United States has never attracted the attention or the athletes it has in Eastern Europe or Mexico. He receives at least one call or letter a week about race walking; the number goes up whenever his exploits are reported in the press.
One of the attractions for DeWitt is that the event is "something you can do forever.'' He likes to talk about a man who lives in Arizona who first wrote to him about walking when he was 67. The Arizonan is still an active race walker at age 82 and just got his doctorate in history, writing his dissertation on the history of race walking.
--Jeffrey D. Porro