Walking off a Dream Denied Olympics, Wheaton Racewalker Still in Pursuit of Mind, Body, Spirit

Article excerpt

Byline: Burt Constable bconstable@dailyherald.com By Burt Constable bconstable@dailyherald.com

If the game of tag were an Olympic sport, Augie Hirt of Wheaton might have his medal.

"I'd have 10 kids chasing me, and they couldn't catch me," says Hirt, remembering his boyhood in the town of Piqua, Ohio, where he'd walk and run for as long and as far as he could. "I was just doing it because it was fun. I was training to be an endurance athlete before I knew there were endurance athletes."

Now a fit 61 with his hair admittedly a "little long" for a certified public accountant, Hirt is the chief financial officer for [URL]The Theosophical Society in America;http://www.theosophical.org/[/URL], headquartered on a lush 42-acre campus in Wheaton, just a three-minute walk from Hirt's home.

"Well, a three-minute walk for me," he says with a grin.

For much of the 1970s, Hirt was the top American in the Olympic sport of [URL]racewalking;http://trackandfield.about.com/od/summerolympicgames/p /olymracewalk.htm[/URL]. He was named to 13 USA national teams, won seven national championships and set records that still hold up today. But fate denied him a shot at an Olympic medal.

Racewalking, known for the hip-swiveling waddle of its marathon racers who always must have one foot touching the ground, has been an official medal sport in the [URL]Olympics;http://www.london2012.com/athletics/event/men-50km-walk/i ndex.html[/URL] since 1908. But in 1976, when Hirt was in his prime, the Montreal Olympics dropped the 50-kilometer portion of the racewalk competition, squashing Hirt's Olympic dream. Hirt had won his first international racewalk in that city in 1974, and the front of the local sports section predicted, "two years later he'll be back," Hirt remembers. "Then, I wasn't there."

His event returned for the 1980 Olympics and Hirt qualified. But the U.S. boycotted the Olympics in Moscow as a protest against the Soviet Union's war with Afghanistan, where Hirt notes U.S. troops now have been involved in military actions for the last 11 years.

"I really don't have any regrets," says Hirt, who embraces the mind, body and spirit philosophy of the Theosophical Society. "Things aren't fair, but everybody's things aren't fair."

After the 50-kilometer race was cut from the Olympics in 1976, the [URL]International Association of Athletics Federation;http://www.iaaf.org/[/URL] sponsored a World Championship in Sweden, where Hirt finished second among Americans and 27th against other elite racewalkers who had planned to compete in the Olympics.

Just days after he returned, Hirt was still jet-lagged and recovering from that race when he decided to enter the [URL]Amateur Athletic Union;http://aausports.org/[/URL]'s National 100-mile Championship racewalk around a track in Columbia, Mo. Planning to walk just half of the race and catch up with friends, Hirt, the youngest in the group at 25, was on the receiving end of trash-talking from defending champion Chuck Hunter, who questioned Hirt's maturity and toughness.

As he neared the 50-mile mark in the lead, Hirt was passed by Hunter, who continued to talk trash and tick off Hirt.

"I wanted to talk to him about why he would do that," remembers Hirt, who, 20 or so miles later, caught up to the guy. They did not have a productive chat, but Hirt put the argument and his competitor behind him.

"It's hard to be mad for another 10 hours," says Hirt, who went on to win the race by 10 minutes, finishing in just under 20 hours and becoming the youngest person ever to walk that far that fast. The race was chronicled in a [URL]Sports Illustrated article;http://www.legendofthedeathrace.com/[/URL].

"The longer the race, the better I do. Everybody is in physical condition; it's just how strong is your mind," Hirt says. He averaged about 9 minutes a mile over 50 miles, 10 minutes a mile over the 62-mile/100-kilometer race and about 12 minutes a mile to cover 100 miles. …