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Crimson track coach Bill McCurdy reminds you of those aging superheroes that are popular in comic books. The ones with the gray hair and the classical Greek physiques.
Replete with rock jaw, twinkling eyes, and a booming voice that belongs in a Buck Rogers serial, the mild-mannered, sweatsuited track coach is slightly larger than life.
While most students here will have already turned the corner on middle aged sloth by the time they graduate, the over-60-year-old track coach will probably still be fighting the evil forces of FLAB (Fight Lean Athletic Bodies for the unitiated).
He is incredibly effective. For most Harvard undergraduates, who would be pleased to execute 50 sit-ups and 30 push-ups once a week, the discovery that a man old enough to be their grandfather is currently doing 100 of both daily is slightly disconcerting.
And that's just half the grueling regimen he has followed religiously for the past 30 years.
Affectionately known as the "Filthy Four" by members of the track team, the exercises are actually pretty standard calisthenics, such as push-ups, sit-ups, leg rotations, and leg overs. But when done consecutively and in quantity, the exercises more than deserve their nickname, McCurdy said yesterday. "And whenever anybody thinks they're ready for more, there's always the Titanic Twleve," he added.
The former Stanford track star is currently at the 100 level--100 sit-ups followed by 100 leg rotations, then 100 leg-overs topped by 100 push-ups.
McCurdy's not known for being particularly modest down at the track, but in fact, few people are aware of his past athletic achievements.
He was a high school California state champion in the 880. At Stanford, he excelled in both the half-mile and the 440, missing a berth on the 1936 U.S. Olympic team in the latter event by one-tenth of a second.
During World War II, he directed a physical training school and was rated one of the Army's top men in physical fitness.
Since then he's kept himself in pretty good shape, judging from the stories that have grown up around him in the twenty years McCurdy has been coaching track and cross-country at Harvard.
Legend has it that McCurdy has never been beaten by one of his runners in any calisthenic competition.
According to Sam Butler, tri-captain of the Indoor Track team, the story is pretty valid. "Four years ago, Bob Clayton, who ran the 1000, challenged McCurdy to a push-up contest. Clayton did 150 and it looked bad for the Coach.
"When McCurdy reached two-hundred, he looked up at Clayton and said 'Would you like me to stop?' By this time, there was quite a crowd, and they all jumped on him."
McCurdy stories aren't limited to calisthenics Until a couple of years ago when he developed tendonitis in one leg, the former track star used to outrace a lot of his runners.
Of course, even McCurdy admitted that time and third-hand sources tend to distort reality.
"There's difference between fact and bluff," McCurdy avered, "I've done some incredible bluffing to scare some of my runners out of bets I didn't think I could win."
The coach likes to joke about his reasons for staying in shape, and explained, "I feel it is necessary to set standards for the coaching staff," adding with a wink, "I don't want anyone to infer that I'm talking about Stowell and Hunt," his assistant coaches.
But there is one other element in McCurdy's devotion to fitness, pride, McCurdy says he attributes his pride to his youth on a farm.
"I don't think it is so true now, but when I was young the old men used to pride themselves in being able to stack as much hay as they did twenty years before. They took pride in their performance."
Maybe it's vanity that keeps McCurdy going. He never tells anybody how old he is, for instance.
"No one's going to get my age because I don't want Hunt and Stowell to know," he said. "I will admit this, though when it comes to intelligence, I'm a rock of ages," McCurdy modestly acknowledged.
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