Vic Zwolak just had to have a pair of the old-fashioned needle-spike track shoes. Terri Dendy wanted to beat her older brother in a foot race. Henry Milligan needed to stoke his competitive fires with a new challenge. And Lori Van Sickle simply loved playing any outdoor sport—pick-up or organized.
From those diverse starting points, these remarkable athletes launched careers that brought them fame throughout the country and, sometimes, the world and earned them entry into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame.
For this issue of 302 Health, we checked in with them and other members of the DSHF whose athletic careers are well behind them to find out how—and if—they are pursuing healthy lifestyles. We discovered that, much like we mere mortals, some of them struggle to find the time and the motivation to exercise regularly, control their weight, and eat right, while others are healthy role models. But no matter where they may be on the fitness chart, they all agree that regular exercise and eating the right foods in moderation are keys to good health.
A couple of 70-something runners—Zwolak and fellow DSHF member Doug White—could serve as poster boys for fitness.
A member of the DSHF’s first class, in 1976, the 74-year-old Zwolak jokes that he works out “no more than seven days a week” at the Brandywine YMCA, about 10 minutes from his home in Delaire, a subdivision near Bellevue Park. He alternates days of 45-minute weight-lifting workouts with 30-minute aerobic sessions on the elliptical machine. This routine keeps him at about 150 pounds—just 15 pounds heavier than when he ran the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
The retired building contractor admits he was not always a paragon of fitness. “I stopped running right after I got back from the Olympics,” he says. “I ate too much, drank too much and I started smoking. I got up to about 185 pounds.”
Then, at 41, he had what he thought was a heart attack, which turned out to be a symptom of high blood pressure. He and his wife spent a nervous week waiting for test results, which showed there had been no heart damage. “So I cleaned up my act because I was just totally abusing my body,” says Zwolak. He started running again and began following a moderate diet of juice and cereal for breakfast, a snack for lunch, and dinner that usually includes chicken or seafood and vegetables.
“Sometimes we have steak, but you couldn’t pay me to order a hamburger at one of those fast-food places or eat a doughnut,” he says.
Zwolak came to track by way of baseball. As a sophomore at Salesianum School, he was a promising center fielder, until one day a salesman from Huber’s Sporting Goods showed up at practice with a station wagon full of baseball cleats and gloves he was trying to sell. He also had a pair of black leather track shoes with needle spikes. “I thought they were really neat, and they were only five bucks,” says Zwolak. “So I went home and asked my dad for five dollars to buy them.” His dad gave him the money, Zwolak bought the shoes, and Sallies lost a promising center fielder. But Delaware gained one of its greatest track stars.
The 70-year-old White also came to running—he holds the record for most consecutive Caesar Rodney Half Marathons (40 and counting)—in a roundabout way. In fact, he’s the only UD grad in the DSHF who did not participate in a college sport. White was into drag racing until he was 30, when his racing partner challenged him to run a mile. That race, which he lost by more than a minute, motivated him to give up cars and start running—which, he points out “is much cheaper than racing cars.”
White runs six days a week and adds weight training on one of those days. In his prime, he totaled 4,000 miles a year. “Now,” he says, “I’m lucky to average 1,000 miles a year. My times have dropped dramatically, too. I’ve gone from from running a 15:53 5K and a 2:31 marathon to running 5Ks in the mid-20s and hoping to break four hours in a marathon. It’s humbling, but you can’t fight the effects of age.”
His times may have dropped, but his training schedule means he doesn’t have to watch what he eats. At 5-foot-9 and 152 pounds he’s only about 20 pounds above his prime running weight.
Some DSHF alumni, like Terri Dendy and Henry Milligan, get plenty of exercise through their jobs. Inducted into the hall last year, Dendy is a graduate of Concord High School, where she set a state record in the 400 meters. She went on to set more records at George Mason University and was ranked among the top 10 women in the United States for the 400 meters from 1986 through 1989 and again in 1993.
Now the athletic director at Prince George’s County (Maryland) Public Schools, Dendy spends her days and evenings going to basketball games, wrestling matches, and track and swim meets. She teaches a personal fitness course and does Zumba and other fitness routines at home via the Wii.
“In between time,” she says, “I care for my beautiful 8-year-old, who attends a performance arts program where she plays the violin, sings and dances.”
Dendy avoids beef and pork, but doesn’t diet. “I primarily eat chicken, fish and turkey with lots of vegetables, or I have seafood, and I eat a lot of fruit.” She says she has “a phobia about gaining weight,” but she admits to being a bit above her goal of 125 pounds.
Dendy says there are no masters races in her future. “I do miss being out there competing, but my 15 minutes are done.”
Milligan’s taste for competition wasn’t so easily quenched after he earned 10 varsity letters (a school record) in football, wrestling and baseball at Princeton from 1978 to 81. The A.I. du Pont High grad returned to Wilmington and took up a new challenge: boxing.
When he walked into the William “Hicks” Anderson Community Center at Fifth and Madison streets, he says, “Some of the boxers licked their chops at this white guy. I didn’t do great at first, but I kept showing up, and after a while I started knocking people out.”
In 1983 “Hammerin’ Hank” won the National Amateur Athletic Union heavyweight championship. The next year he was seeded first in the Olympic trials in the 201-pound class, despite weighing only 184. In the semifinals, he was ahead on points in the second round when a 17-year-old named Mike Tyson stopped him.
Today Milligan coaches wrestling at Wilmington Christian School, teaches a leadership course at Wilmington University, and coaches a wellness lifestyle for several clients. Working with his wrestlers and clients provides plenty of exercise, but he follows no formal workout routine.
Yet at 54 —when many men have entered “muffin top” mode—Milligan’s 5-foot-11 frame carries 175 pounds and about 7 percent body fat.
His exercise-diet philosophy is based on two concepts: muscle and protein.
“Most people are so concerned with doing their cardio because they want to lose weight and look better,” Milligan says. “But they don’t need to be running five miles a day. The real key to looking better and losing fat is to build muscle. Muscle dictates metabolism.
“The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn—even when you’re sleeping. It also mitigates spikes in blood sugar and getting too much insulin in your system, which promotes fat storage.”
He includes muscle-building protein in every meal and snack. He drinks water and, occasionally, lemonade. For those who crave soft drinks, he advises cutting them in half with water. “It won’t spike your blood sugar nearly as much, and after awhile you’ll get used to it and you won’t be able to stand the regular sugary soda.”
For anyone interested in fitness advice, Milligan is ready to respond. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ron Dickerson is something of a testament to Milligan’s philosophy. A longtime football coach at Seaford High School, Dickerson earned his hall status by winning 191 games, ranking him fourth in state high school football history and first among downstate coaches.
In the late ’90s, Dickerson ballooned to 250 pounds, and he wasn’t able to coach in 1998 due to high blood pressure. Alarmed, he embarked on a walking/biking routine that eventually melted 50 pounds off his six-foot frame.
Once he reached his desired weight of 192-196 pounds, Dickerson began to focus on weight training—mostly dumbbell and Nautilus exercises—three times a week at the Nanticoke Senior Center in Seaford. He weighs himself each morning and keeps detailed charts, marking them with a red line when his weight is too high, a yellow line for caution, and a green line for his ideal weight.
“This gives me a true indication of where I am each day and what I may need to do to reach the line I desire on my chart,” he says.
While Dickerson has achieved his fitness goal, Lori Van Sickle, like many people, is committed to getting back into shape in 2013. All-State in three sports at Brandywine High School and a softball standout at UD, Van Sickle became a golf pro at the age of 30.
For awhile, she had a personal trainer and dietician, but eventually her work schedule and raising two daughters limited her workouts and she fell out of shape.
Now 50 (“Eek!” she says), she wants to get fit again because “there’s a lot of life left and I want to be able to remain active.”
While she says her husband, a chef, is helpful in fixing healthy meals, she has a serious dietary weakness everyone can relate to: “Carbs and sugar, I love them both. I never met a bad cookie.”
Van Sickle hints she may go back to a personal trainer. “They can help you set realistic goals, get you started and make certain you are working out correctly to avoid injury.”
For those who, like her, are making an effort to get fit, she says, “It’s never too late to start, and it just makes you feel so good to work out and stay active.”
All of these sports legends agree that achieving Van Sickle’s everyman and everywoman goals of feeling good and staying active must be a slow process.
Says Dickerson, “Start gradually. Set goals, but set them low. If you set them too high, you’ll get frustrated when you don’t achieve them.”
Adds Dendy, “You need to remember it took some time to gain that weight, so it will take some time to lose it. And don’t get caught up in the fad diets. They come and go. Eat healthy and take your time.”
And finally, Milligan suggests making it fun. “Whether it’s something as active as racquetball or as simple as walking, do something you like.” he says. “A five-minute walk is a great start. And don’t do it for your wife or your husband. Do it for yourself.”
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