A Spear-Carrier No More

Bob Roggy moved to center stage after making an astounding throw to break the American javelin record
May 09, 1982

It was all over but the shouting, and that is more than just a figure of speech. The announcer for the Bruce Jenner/Michelob Light track and field classic at the San Jose City College stadium was saying, "Well, folks, that's it, thanks for coming." But most of the folks were already gone, so few of them will ever say, "Remember the '82 Jenner?" or hear the reply, "Were you there, too?" Few of them will ever say those things, unless, that is, they sat in their seats to the glorious finish, or were among those who lingered in the emptying parking lots until late afternoon and heard an explosion of shouting and whistling; unless they peered back at the nearly deserted stadium and saw at its far end a tight knot of diehards waving their arms; unless they hurried back to observe a huge, handsome and seemingly bewildered 25-year-old named Bob Roggy (rhymes with logy, which he is occasionally accused of being), who had just thrown a javelin the startling distance of 307'6". That broke Mark Murro's 12-year-old American record of 300 feet, which of course is the length of a football field, and a javelin weighs 800 grams (1.8 pounds) and is more than eight feet long. Consider that.

The javelin competition at the Jenner meet had usually been held in the morning, there being in track and field a well-founded fear of what might happen when large, pointed objects soar near crowds. But the Jenner people were tempted by the prospect of providing an audience for athletes who usually never see one, and by the record-making potential in the prevailing afternoon winds. As it turned out, the wind wasn't a factor; it blew across the field, not down it. Thus, after the effusive Willie Banks had won the triple jump, the next-to-last event on the day's program, the fans began filing out.

It has always been a bad idea to turn one's back on a javelin thrower; Roggy would soon make that doubly true.

The previous evening he had lain on the floor of his hotel room, stretching. "I'm really relaxed," he told his fiancée, Sheryl Newkirk, also 25, a membership saleswoman and aerobic dancing teacher at the Holiday Spa in Encino, Calif. "Two hundred and seventy-five feet should win. I figure I can do that and still not put too much pressure on...." Roggy touched his left knee, where the patellar tendon had been painfully inflamed since mid-March. In the five weeks since, he had been afraid to put his full weight on it; until two days before the meet he hadn't so much as lifted a javelin. But the men's javelin and shotput events had been designated USA/Mobil Outdoor Grand Prix events, in the Jenner and in two future events. There was legal money to be made, as much as $2,500 in all at the three meets, a strange and wonderful phenomenon to an amateur athlete. So the next afternoon Roggy stood on the field at San Jose and gingerly flexed his knee.

He was ninth to throw in a field of 11, and his first two attempts went only 260'10" and 261'2", putting him in fourth place. He knew that his throwing arm was coming around too early, before he had planted his tender left leg, and a javelin thrower's leg should be planted before the arm begins its movement. Roggy decided, too, that he needed more speed coming down the runway, especially in the cross-stepping phase of the run-in, that crablike series of steps that enable a javelin thrower to turn his upper body parallel to the runway and to launch the implement with full power.

On Roggy's third attempt he ran faster, but even so he was more controlled. His throw came out nice and low, but not too low. A javelin has to break parallel in order to score. Roggy's did, and it dug in at 298 feet and three inches, the best throw of his life. "I can't believe it," he kept saying.

Roggy figured he could win the competition without even making his last three attempts. "Why risk injury?" he said to his roommate, shotputter Dave Laut, whose put of 66'4½" had placed him second to Brian Old-field's 66'6".

Laut reminded him, "You're less than two feet short of the American record."

Roggy's knee felt fine, so he decided to continue, and on his momentous fourth attempt he seemed even more aggressive than on the-third. He started four feet farther back and he blazed down the runway even more quickly this time, seemingly deep in concentration, but relaxedly so. His arm came up and over like a whip, the javelin shot downrange, and Roggy watched in wonderment.

Someone shouted, "At least 300 feet," and the judges headed out with the measuring tape. Roggy looked at the tape at his end and saw the figure 300, and at that point the tape wasn't even close to the toe-board. As he walked away, clapping a hand to his head—he really couldn't believe it—he heard a judge saying, "Oh-one, oh-two, oh-three...."

Roggy's throw was 14'6" farther than his previous best and only 9'10" short of the world record of 317'4", set in 1980 by Ferenc Paragi of Hungary. From all directions people began to converge around Roggy. They simply materialized, like people who appear out of nowhere at a traffic accident on a seemingly deserted street.

Roggy threw again, of course, for his well-wishers, for himself, for posterity, and the javelin stuck in the turf 299'8" away. In consecutive attempts, after a three-week layoff, he had achieved the three best performances of a career that had begun 12 years earlier, at Holmdel (N.J.) High School, about the time Mark Murro set his American record. Murro was a Jersey boy, too, from Newark—which isn't just coincidence because Jersey was one of only 17 states that sanctioned high school javelin competitions at that time.

Roggy's main interest back then was football, although he did go out for track, hoping to throw the discus. But the track coach said, "No, we have enough discus throwers. What we need is someone for the javelin."

So Roggy threw the javelin.

As a sophomore at Holmdel he threw it 130 feet. He improved by 20 to 30 feet each year, and as a senior at Southern Illinois University he won the 1978 NCAA championship with a throw of 283'9". His preliminary throw of 293 feet is still the NCAA meet record.

Roggy also high-jumped 6'8" that year—at a weight of 245, which must be some kind of record—to win the event at the SIU-Wisconsin meet. About the same time he pole-vaulted 13'6", long-jumped 23'5", triple-jumped 48'6", and ran the hundred in 10.2. SIU Track Coach Lew Hartzog says now, "Had we not felt that his greatness was with the javelin, I'm convinced that he could have done as well in the decathlon."

When Roggy graduated from Southern Illinois in 1978, with a B.S. in phys ed and kinesiology, he had just met Newkirk, a classmate and dance-phys ed major from Arlington Heights, Ill. To be near the busiest track-meet circuit, Roggy moved to California. Newkirk followed, and they became engaged in April 1981. Now he lives in Santa Barbara, sharing a three-bedroom tract house with Sheryl's black rottweiler, Rogue, Laut, who had thrown for UCLA, Laut's wife, Jane, and their German shepherd, Kelsey. The house is 10 miles south of Ronald Reagan's ranch in the sky, but worlds away in terms of sweat socks, dog hairs, barbells and javelins per square foot. It's also only three miles down Route 101 from the Pauley outdoor track and field facility of the University of California at Santa Barbara, where Roggy trains three times a week. The sun always shines there, but not too insistently, and the only alien note, coming from beyond a large and pungent grove of eucalyptus trees, is the hum of tires on 101.

Roggy leads an idyllic life, despite his having to pay the bills by working four nights a week until 2 a.m. as a bouncer (he pronounces it "greeter") at a busy little Italian restaurant-bar named Rocky Galenti's. "I'm very diplomatic," he says. "These hands are much too important to me." He can afford to be diplomatic. One night recently a mean-looking drunk staggered toward the doorway, but one look at Roggy, and the drunk staggered away. In greeting, as well as in javelin throwing, it helps to stand 6'4", to weigh 240, and to have a 48-inch chest over a 35-inch waist under an 18-inch neck.

The days following the Jenner meet were typical for Roggy. He would sleep until 10 or 11, and then down a milkshake made with four raw eggs, 10 tablespoons of All Star Instant 90% Milk & Egg Protein and 10 tablespoons of chocolate-flavored Rapid Weight Gain. All he had eaten the morning of his record throw at San Jose was a breakfast of 1½ fried eggs, a piece of toast and a cup of coffee.

Roggy paid one of his twice-weekly visits to a chiropractor named Sal Arria. He lay on an adjustment table, as Arria manipulated his spine. "Javelin throwing is very rotational at best, and very stressful to the human body, especially to one as big and strong as Bob's," said Arria. Roggy didn't have to be reminded of that. The rotation had led to pinched nerves in the area of his fourth, fifth, and sixth thoracic vertebrae, causing pain to radiate throughout his middle back. Arria makes the pain go away. He calls the condition thoracic radicular syndrome. Roggy so admires Arria's abilities that he plans to be a chiropractor himself one day.

That afternoon at the track Roggy spent 10 minutes running 75-yard dashes and an equal time running hurdles. He rarely does any other running, and he says he couldn't last five minutes in one of Newkirk's aerobic dance classes. The dashes and hurdles, he says, are "good for agility and coordination. And you have to attack each hurdle, just like you have to attack the javelin runway."

Roggy borrowed a shot from Laut, who was working out nearby. He cradled it in both hands, at waist level, and, exhaling with a "whoosh," he flipped the shot back over his head.

Laut said, "That's a hip exercise, for explosive-type movements made by fast-twitch muscle fibers."

On Roggy's fourth flip, Laut, 6'4", 265 pounds, the world's fifth-ranking shotputter this year and NCAA champion in 1978 and '79, said, "Uh, 60 feet. I couldn't do that. I'm not as agile as Bob is."

Laut was asked, "But, as a rule, aren't javelin throwers generally more agile than shotputters?"

"Yes," he said, "but Bob is unusually agile even for a javelin thrower. He'd be great in the decathlon."

A decathlete named Dan Bonarth, working out nearby, said, "Let's hope he never tries. Gawd, I just wish I had his power."

Roggy flipped the shot for 20 minutes, then he grabbed a discus and sailed it out as if it were a Frisbee a half dozen times. "This helps with my hip drive, too," he said.

In the parking lot, Roggy met a female friend from Southern Illinois, who threw her arms around him and exclaimed, "I read about you in the Sunday paper!

"This guy has a lot of talent," she said to Roggy's visitor. "I always told him, 'If you ever decided to really work out, you could be an Olympic champion.' "

"I will be," Roggy said.

"But he is a little, uh, lazy."

They both found that amusing, but later Roggy made it plain that the assessment was based on a misunderstanding of the challenge he faces. "I never used to work out with the javelin that much, and I still don't," he explained, not for the first time in his life. "I can do a lot of other things. I don't have to throw every day. As Sal said about the rotation problem, it's too stressful, throwing hard three or four times a week."

The next day Roggy spent two hours in a fully equipped weight room that was once a garage. It still is, actually, except that as long as he and Laut live at that address no car will ever enter it. Arrayed around the floor are 1,000 pounds or so of weights, worth, perhaps, $3,000; two racks, for squatting with heavy barbells, and behind one of them a six-by-three-foot mirror; wooden platforms; two incline benches, one for upper-body presses and the other for leg extensions and leg curls; and miscellaneous items, such as 15 javelins standing in a corner, each worth from $100 to $350. "The tips bend," Roggy says, "the hand grips wear out. I get a new one at least every year." A few feet away is a fiendish training aid called Inversion Boots. Roggy straps them to his ankles after every workout; then he hooks them to an overhead bar and hangs there, a great, awesome bat, sometimes for 10 minutes. "It's for decompression purposes," he says.

On this day Roggy did six different sets of squats, starting with 200 pounds and concluding with 480. Each set consisted of six repetitions, and, he said, "In a few weeks I'll get the reps down to three. Now I'm just getting my strength up. The three reps will be for explosive power."

He did bench presses and bent rowing movements and 25 sit-ups with a 50-pound weight behind his neck. Then he placed a Schnell bar, which weighs 135 pounds, on his shoulders, and lunged forward and down with one leg, bending the knee to a right angle, the rear knee almost touching the floor. He did 10 reps with each leg, observing, "A lot of people don't understand that javelin throwing is 80 percent legs. The more you do with your legs the better off you are."

"Then how do you account for what happened at San Jose?"

"That was imagery," he said. "I couldn't throw all those weeks, so I kept imagining myself coming down the runway, and on that day the images were very strong. It just took me a few times to get it right."

"So what do you visualize next for yourself?"

"Going out and...breaking the world record."

"And where would you like to do that?"

"Lots of places. The TAC meet in June, for one, because it's so big."

"Maybe they'll put you on last again, and that won't seem as big a deal."

But that didn't seem likely. The crowds will be waiting for Bob Roggy now.

As Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, and as the track fans at San Jose seemed to forget, "The game isn't over till it's over."

PHOTO PHOTONewkirk met her fiancé when they were both undergraduates at Southern Illinois. PHOTORoggy says he would not last five minutes in one of Newkirk's aerobic dance classes. PHOTORoggy and shotputter Laut work in their garage gym. PHOTORoggy's record had Newkirk up in the air. PHOTORoggy and rival Bruce Kennedy look on as a U.S.-record 307'6" of tape unfolds.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)