Days Of Bread And Water Walker's Lifestyle Is Positively Spartan

Posted: February 16, 1992

LA PLAGNE, France — First a correction.

But this one is a little eerie.

It was reported yesterday that Herschel Walker, world-class sprinter, NFL running back and currently the main engine on the number-one U.S. two-man bobsled, had been subsisting on a daily diet of bread and fried potatoes.

Wrong.

Yesterday, in one of the oddest news conferences yet seen in these Games, Walker covered a wide range of topics. His life was the basic theme. One knows not what to make of the things he said.

First, Walker said that those reports that he ate a few fried potatoes each day were greatly exaggerated. In fact, since Jan. 12, he said, he has eaten only one meal a day. That meal consists of bread and water.

"I'm not a big eater," he explained.

Sometimes, he'll splurge and drink a little juice, he said. Sometimes he'll

put a tiny speck of butter on the bread. Once, maybe twice at the most, he has had a french fry or two (no ketchup).

Other than that it has been strictly French bread ("It's good.") and water, always taken in the afternoon. No vitamins. No vegetables. No pasta. You get the idea. Nothing but bread and water.

That sounds a little like jail, Herschel.

"Well, life is jail, sometimes," he said. He said this very seriously.

Why he does this and how he does this without suffering from malnutrition is a mystery. His explanation is simple. "I've always eaten just one meal a day," he said. "I'm not a big eater."

The news conference came after he and his driver, Brian Shimer, finished ninth after the first day of racing at the bobsled track.

Sledding was not nearly so fascinating as Walker's discussion of his excruciatingly regimented life.

He doesn't sleep much, he said, usually between 3 1/2 or 4 hours a day. But now that he's so busy training, trying to win a medal for the U.S. bobsled team, it's hard to find time for him to do his 1,500 push-ups and 2,000 sit- ups every day.

So he has to get up even earlier.

Never mind what this surreal, Spartan lifestyle does to Walker. Think about poor Shimer. His roommate during the Games.

Shimer looks tired.

But he said he has had no problem sleeping in the same room as Walker. ''You get used to it," he said.

When he wakes he hears noises - at first, he thought they were strange. The noises are the rhythmic grunting of Herschel Walker.

"Sit-ups," Shimer said.

"He never sleeps, he's always up," Shimer said. "The only time I've ever really seen him sleep is when he takes a little catnap for a few minutes in the afternoon.

"I learn to adapt," said Shimer.

Walker has also noticed that Shimer looks a little tired. He said Shimer had been staying up too late, tinkering with the sled.

"I think Brian needs rest," Walker said. "He's been up doing things with the sled. I've been up, but I'm a guy who doesn't sleep, anyway."

Here's a tip, Herschel: Try eating a good meal. Get some sleep. Maybe you'll win a gold medal. Maybe not. But, at least, there is a chance you might feel better.

Walker does not think that way.

"I was never into food," he said when asked what his favorite meal was when he was a boy.

"I think Americans eat too much, anyway. I used to like sweets, but I don't eat them anymore."

Bread pudding?

"Nah," he said.

After saying all this, Walker insists that he's having a great time here at the Winter Olympics. He gets up before dawn and runs down the mountain two miles and back up and then, if he has time, he starts the sit-ups, of course.

But what really tickles Walker most about being here is that he is getting a chance to "compete."

That's his favorite word. His passion in life. One wonders if it is a consuming one.

"I've been playing cards over at the hotel since we got here. I love that. Brian and I, we've lost one game since we been here. I've always loved to compete," he said with a childlike voice.

"If I was back home in Texas or New York, I don't know what I'd be doing."

These past three NFL seasons have not been happy times for Walker. Since he was traded from the Dallas Cowboys to the Minnesota Vikings in one of the biggest deals in NFL history, he has spent more time running in and out of games than he has running with the football.

"I really didn't play football the last couple of years," he said. "I was running on and off the field more than I was playing football. I think I got more tired running off the field than anything else."

He clearly is not happy with his situation in Minnesota.

"I'm a person that's trained since the 11th grade. I have never missed a day of training," he said. "I'm always in shape. So it's sort of tough for me not to get involved in anything."

Here, he is involved. It is like running track again, as he did in college. Just him, his partner, the sled. The clock. No one controlling his playing time. No one telling him he can't compete.

He sounds as if he is having fun, but he will not use that word. When asked if he had to choose now between football and being a bobsledder, his voice takes on a hint of pride and bitterness.

"When I was little," he said, "no one came over and said, 'Herschel, let me buy you a pair of track shoes so you can be one of the best sprinters in the world; I'm going to buy you a pair of cleats so you can become one of the best football players in the world, or I'm going to pick you up somewhere for your mother because she's working and can't do it.'

"No one stopped to help Herschel then. But now everyone wants to give Herschel advice about what to do. But life isn't like that. I've come a long way. I can compete at the top of the heap in anything I set my mind to. And that's where I'm at."

But what if he fails?

"That's life," he said. "I deal with it and go on. But I don't think negative. That's a negative thought. A totally negative thought. And I don't think negative in life."

He sounded like a man trying to build a dam around a word.

Negative. Which may be why he kept saying it.

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