Dick Buerkle loved Oreos and peanut butter so much that he
devoured nine of the cookies and two PB&J sandwiches a few hours
before a race on Jan. 13, 1978. The unorthodox carbo loading
worked: That night Buerkle broke the world indoor record in the
mile, running 3:54.9 at the CYO Invitational in Maryland's Cole
Buerkle, 54, is a cookie monster no longer. He stopped eating
flour and sugar after seeing a photograph of himself carrying
the Olympic torch before the opening ceremonies of the 1996
Summer Games in Atlanta, where he has lived since 1979. "My kids
took this picture of me, and I had this flab around my belly,"
says the high school Spanish teacher and father of three
twentysomethings (Gabriel, Lily and Tera). "My wife thinks I'm
nuts, but I didn't like the way I felt." So Buerkle changed his
diet, dropped 20 pounds and upped his running regimen from 15 to
60 miles a week. Now weighing in at 145 pounds, the 5'8" Buerkle
says, "I feel fabulous."
It was Buerkle's weight--or lack thereof--that led him to
running. As a high school freshman at Aquinas Institute in
Rochester, N.Y., he weighed 80 pounds and quickly figured out he
was too light for football. He tried several sports before
finding his way to track, running the mile as a senior. A
walk-on at Villanova, he became an expert in finishing third at
the NCAA championships--doing so twice in the indoor two-mile
and once in the outdoor three-mile as a senior in 1970. Buerkle,
easily recognized by his bald noggin (the result of
childhood-onset alopecia), won his first national title in 1974,
in the 5,000 meters, and competed in the same event at the
Montreal Olympics two years later. Disappointed with a
ninth-place finish in his Olympic heat, he quit running to sell
contact lenses in Buffalo. After a year's hiatus, he announced
at age 30 that he was returning as a miler. Four months later he
broke the world record. The U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow
Games left Buerkle discouraged, however, and he retired in '81.
These days, when Buerkle isn't teaching at Henry W. Grady High
in Atlanta or getting ready for his one road race a year (the
Peachtree 10K), he's on the go with Jean, his wife of 30 years.
He caught the travel bug during his competitive days, when he
raced on every continent save Antarctica. A nervous competitor,
Buerkle says he always felt that the chance to travel the globe
made up for the butterflies he felt before races. In the past
two years Buerkle has been to Mexico and South America, thanks
to free airfare on Delta, his son's employer until last month.
"It's been unbelievable," Buerkle says of his travels. "I've had
the greatest time."
January 21, 2002
--Kristin Green Morse