Forty years after her first Olympiad, Maren Seidler, queen of the American shot put, doesn’t harbor any Brett Favre-style issues of competitive rebirth.
There’s no Senior Olympic tilt within the broad-shouldered, silver-haired and ever-smiling real estate agent, either. She cemented her status as SaddleBrooke’s fitness center manager with a friend’s words.
“Shotputting is not a recreational activity.”
After 23 national titles beginning in 1967, Seidler practiced alone one afternoon in San Jose, Calif., when she took her final throw in 1980.
“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 before that graceful exit, the eventual six-foot-two daughter of Coney Island’s six-foot-nine chief lifeguard received an official weight women’s discus for her sixth birthday.
Seidler loaded that and other track implements snatched from her childhood home’s walls into her red wagon and headed for Brooklyn’s parks, where her seed germinated.
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 put 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.”
In fact, the eight-pound sphere shaped the world under Seidler’s feet like a well-worn pair of track spikes.
She and a close group of fellow athletes traveled as fine-tuned gypsies during their athletic Age of Aquarius, to the point that Seidler didn’t spend a summer stateside until she was 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.”
Graduating from high school at 16, Seidler won her Olympic trials and delayed college for a year to compete in 1968’s Mexico City Games.
But the era’s troubled politics molded Seidler as much as any coach. Mexican police killed numerous student protestors just before the XIX Olympiad, while on the podium, African-American track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos earned banishment 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.”
After she earned an anthropology degree from Tufts University, the world-wiser Seidler readied for 1972’s Munich Games. She thought the event would become her favorite Olympiad, as a postwar democratic Germany strove to capitalize on 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.
The family she spoke of are Olympians, a “very insular” community that succumbs to nationalism in many ways, like rabid spectator interests of what country pulls the most medals.
“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 was privileged to lift weights in the makeshift gym her father built in the garage. On the road, finding a gym was often a big deal where she’d occasionally have to convince some boneheaded manager 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 through competition after sportswriters marveled at her feminine appearance — including her late husband, a writer for the San Jose Mercury.
“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.
The shot putter’s no stranger to substituting attitude when athleticism fell short, though. Especially when dealing with bureaucrats.
Once during the early ‘70s, Iron Curtain customs officials purposely delayed Seidler and Hall of Fame javelin thrower Kate “The Great” Schmidt so they’d miss their plane after a meet. 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, which still makes Schmidt laugh, is textbook Seidler — aggressive, and insistent to represent her human family.
“Forget what she did on the field,” Schmidt said of Seidler. “She’s such an extraordinary human being. Those who know her are lucky to have.”
MAREN SEIDLER BY THE NUMBERS
-23 national titles between 1967 and 1980.
-Nine consecutive outdoor titles
-Four Olympic teams (1968, ‘72, ‘76, ‘80)
-Three Pan American teams (1967, ‘75, ‘79)
-First American woman to throw beyond 60 feet.
-11 first-place rankings in the U.S., and broke the American shot put record 11 times.
-Inducted into US Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2000.
Source: USA Track & Field