Saturday, April 9, 2011

Three-Time NCAA Champ Vic Zwolak Still Rolling at 72

At 72, Vic Zwolak still hard to catch
Delaware's first track Olympian set record in CR Half-Marathon
April 5, 2011
Delaware Online

There is no slack in Vic Zwolak, who remains one of the state's most accomplished runners more than a half-century after he became Delaware's first high school cross country champion and later its first track Olympian.

Zwolak's 1954 and 1955 titles while running for Salesianum, where he also played football, were the first indication of his special knack.

After a brief stay at Oregon State, followed by a hitch in the U.S. Marine Corps, Zwolak resurfaced at Villanova University, where he won NCAA titles in cross country in 1963 and in the 3,000-meter steeplechase on the track in 1963 and 1964.

His greatest claim to fame is having represented the United States on the 1964 Olympic team in Tokyo, where he ran the 3,000 steeplechase.

Now 72 and still living in Delaire between Wilmington and Claymont, Zwolak continues to lace up his running shoes for treks through nearby Bellevue State Park or on the track at Mount Pleasant High.

"I run every day," said Zwolak, now retired from his days in real estate, mortgage and construction work. "I run because I still enjoy it so much."

And he's still hard to catch.

In Wilmington's Caesar Rodney Half-Marathon on March 27, Zwolak's time of 1:38:49 set a state-resident age-class record in the 70-79 division.

Zwolak now holds 20 such state-resident records at eight different distances -- from the 5K (3.1) miles through the marathon (26.2) -- and in four different age classes (45-49, 55-59, 60-64 and 70-79).

Since turning 70, Zwolak has set six records in the 70-79 age group, including three this year. Before his Caesar Rodney run, Zwolak had clocked a 21:41 5K and 1:18:14 10-miler.

"He's an Olympian," said 68-year-old Doug White, the accomplished road racer who'll join Zwolak in the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame next month. "He has the talent and the build and the biomechanics, and that all helps.

"But he also has the mental fortitude, so when he gets around to it and trains, he can blow those records out. He's phenomenal, and he's a super guy, too."

Zwolak has been a fixture on the local road racing scene since the 1980s. Other than periodic bouts with physical issues -- a broken foot, a hamstring pull, hernia surgery, an elbow injury from a winter slip on the ice -- Zwolak has maintained his miles.

He now runs 2 1/2 most days, with frequent track sessions in which he'll churn out 20 400-meter laps, following each with a 200-meter jog, then 10 100s, followed by 100-meter jogs.

But he'll also have a day each week in which he runs a 5 1/2-mile loop, and may even double it for 11 miles.

"When I was running at Villanova for Jumbo Elliott, he used to say getting in that distance was like putting money in the bank," said Zwolak, who saw the payoff with his fine Caesar Rodney run. "That was a heck of a race. I hadn't run 13.1 miles in about five years."

Zwolak also saw his competitive instincts emerge, straining to try to beat a runner to the finish line whom he thought might be in his age class after the difficult climb up Market Street to the Rodney Square finish line.

Some things never change.

In 1963, Zwolak had expended every ounce of his remaining energy to catch and pass Kansas State's John Camien to capture the NCAA cross country title on the Michigan State golf course, winning by three seconds in 19:35 over a 4-mile layout.

"You've got to put it all on the line," he says.

"I'm thankful. I really am," added Zwolak. "You've got to have fun in life, and I'm having fun."

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