Wednesday, August 01, 2007

TSI Recommends... C.C.Pyle's Amazing Foot Race

In the Roaring Twenties, endurance fads were all the rage. From dance marathons and flagpole sitting to kissing and kite-flying competitions, it seemed there was nothing that someone wouldn’t attempt. Some wanted fame, fortune or fun, but for those not dressed in tuxedoes or feather boas, living the good life that the Jazz Age afforded, an endurance competition meant a chance to change one’s luck.

And then there were those who made their own luck, like C.C. Pyle, a regular P.T. Barnum in the 1920s, a notorious sports agent who almost single-handedly took football from the amateur hour to the professional leagues. Best known as the promoter of football legend Red Grange, Pyle will soon be a main supporting character (played by Jonathan Pryce) in George Clooney’s film Leatherheads, due in theaters this December.

But even more than his contributions to professional sports, Pyle’s greatest—or most notorious—offering to sports history began April 26, 1927, when he stood before a room full of sportswriters and proposed a foot race across the United States—from Los Angeles to New York. Runners would travel 30 to 50 miles a day, sleeping in towns along the way. The runner with the lowest total time would win $25,000 in prize money, a jaw-dropping dollar figure at the time.

In C.C. PYLE’S AMAZING FOOT RACE (Rodale / July 2007 / Hardcover / $25.95), Geoff Williams tells the tale of what would officially be known as C.C. Pyle’s First Annual International Transcontinental Foot Race, From Los Angeles to New York. In an age of partially paved roads, shoddy shoes, and dubious foot care, sportswriters mockingly dubbed Pyle’s grand scheme the “Bunion Derby.” But it seemed less ludicrous to the 199 runners from all over the world, many of them hapless underdogs, who took their mark on March 4, 1928, for the chance to change their luck…their fortunes…their lives.

The race was grueling in predictable and unpredictable ways, as runners endured harsh weather, crippling ailments, death threats, and startled motorists—but an astonishing 55 participants managed to stagger to the Madison Square Garden finish line 84 days later. This from a field of starters that boasted very few professional runners, and included a postal worker, a cowboy, a streetcar operator, and even a baker. The diverse competitors vying for the prize money included:

· Andy Payne, a 20-year old Oklahoman and part Cherokee who wanted to win over the girl of his dreams and pay off the mortgage on his family’s farm

· Paul “Hardrock” Simpson, a college student from North Carolina who had already survived being hit by a car, enlisting in the army at age 15, and a 500 mile race against a pony

· Mike Kelly, formerly known as Dean Pletcher, a luckless boxer from Indiana, who changed his name before beginning the race that he hoped would change his life

· Ed Gardner, one of four black runners whose encounters with bigotry along the race route made reaching New York a deeply personal quest.

· Arthur Newton, a record-breaking runner who, according to Pyle’s race program, “was passed up for the last two Olympic Games because the 26-mile marathon was too short for him”

· Charles Hart, a 63-year-old Englishman, whose world-record for fastest time over 100 miles had just been broken by rival runner Newton

· Morris Saperstein, the last surviving participant in the Bunion Derby, passing away in February 2005, who for unknown reasons went to his grave without ever mentioning a word to his family about the monumental race

Drawing from the firsthand accounts of those who were there, never-before-published material, and interviews with many living descendents, Williams reveals a cast of characters colorful enough to rival any of today’s reality television contestants. By the end of C.C. PYLE’S AMAZING FOOT RACE, readers, like the runners who crossed the finish line, will be tempted to believe C.C. Pyle’s boast: “I’m the gent that makes dreams come true.”

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist, whose articles have appeared in publications as diverse as Entertainment Weekly and LIFE. He frequently contributes to Entrepreneur and pens a monthly humor column for the parenting magazine, Babytalk. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Loveland, Ohio.

If you would like to receive a review copy for your newsletter, I would be happy to send one to you.

Beth Tarson
Senior Publicist | Rodale Trade Books
733 Third Avenue New York, NY 10017-3204
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