More than a thrower - The Explorer: Sports

More than a thrower

Former shot putter Maren Seidler a big believer in the power of sport

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Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:02 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Forty years after her first Olympiad, Maren Seidler doesn’t harbor any Favre-style dilemmas of competitive rebirth.

No Senior Olympic debates smolder within the broad-shouldered, silver-haired and ever-smiling real estate agent.

She measured her status as SaddleBrooke’s fitness center manager with a friend’s words.

“Shotputting is not a recreational activity.”

The verdict came in 1980.

Seidler practiced alone one afternoon in San Jose, Calif., when she threw one final shot, after 23 national titles beginning in 1967.

“I went out to get it, and I just thought, ‘That’s it,’” Seidler said. “All of a sudden, I was just done. I put my shot back in the bag and I went home.”

Decades earlier, the latent six-foot-two daughter of Coney Island’s six-foot-nine chief lifeguard got an official-weight women’s discus for her sixth birthday.

Seidler tossed the discus into her red wagon, with other track implements snatched from her childhood home’s walls, and headed for Brooklyn’s parks, where her seed sprouted.

A master discus thrower himself, Seidler’s father drove the unregistered and age-ineligible Maren to her first track meet in Columbia, S.C., at age 11.

She launched a shot 35 feet — over half the distance she’d later need to set an American record of 62.63 feet (19.09 meters) in 1979.

“I thought, ‘This is great,’” Seidler said. “I don’t know if you do the thing you love, or love the thing you do, but it just felt like it was a really good fit.”

That eight-pound sphere became Seidler’s ticket.

With a close-knit tribe of fellow athletes, Seidler traveled as a fine-tuned gypsy during an athletic Age of Aquarius, to the point she didn’t spend a summer stateside until age 30.

“We were like a big family,” said fellow shot putter Al Fuerbach, who competed alongside Seidler. “I liken it to being starving artists — money wasn’t a concern.”

After she graduated from high school at 16, Seidler won her Olympic trials and put off college for a year to compete in 1968’s Mexico City Games.

The era’s troubled politics molded Seidler as much as any coach.

Mexican police killed numerous student protestors just before the XIX Olympiad. On the podium, African-American track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos were tossed from the Olympic Village after they hoisted gloved hands in Black Power salutes.

“That was a scarring moment for them and for a lot of us,” Seidler said. “I love those guys. I supported (Smith and Carlos) then and forever, fully.”

The world-wiser Seidler readied for 1972’s Munich Games, after she earned her anthropology degree from Tufts University.

The event figured to become her favorite Olympiad, as postwar democratic Germany polished its showcase.

Instead, Palestinian gunmen stained the Games, executing 11 Israeli athletes. That the killers disguised themselves in tracksuits disgusted Seidler even more.

“They murdered people in my family. That’s how it felt. I still have anger about it,” Seidler said.

In that case, Seidler’s family was Olympians. The “very insular” clan still succumbs to nationalism, she added, by spectators’ fixation on which country tops the medal count.

“If I’m there watching the competition and I’m particularly engaged by some athlete or some performance,” Seidler said, “possibly the last thing I care about is where they come from.”

Or what gender they are.

As a kid, Seidler lifted weights in a makeshift gym her father built in the garage.

On the road, finding a gym was often a big deal where she’d have to convince boneheaded managers that she wouldn’t hurt herself.

“She was probably a lot sharper than a lot of the gym owners questioning her,” Fuerbach said.

Now, Seidler admits one of her biggest joys is watching young women — who believe there’s nothing they can’t do — grow to earn a living from competition.

“I’m a big believer in the power of sport — especially for girls’ sense of confidence, competition and all those cliched things that I think happen to be true,” Seidler said.

Seidler’s no stranger to subbing attitude where athleticism fell short. Especially when dealing with bureaucrats.

Once during the early ‘70s, Iron Curtain customs officials entangled Seidler and Hall of Fame javelinist Kate “The Great” Schmidt so they’d miss a post-meet flight.

Fed up, the pair grabbed a nearby boombox, popped in a Beatles tape, and blasted “Help” loud enough to make the guards cringe.

The story is textbook Seidler, Schmidt laughed.

“Forget what she did on the field,” Schmidt said. “She’s such an extraordinary human being. Those who know her are lucky to have.”

Editor’s note: A version of this story previously appeared in The Explorer’s July 23 SaddleBrooke edition.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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