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SMILING SAMMY WALKER

By
on
January 14, 2021

Shot Put Record Setter and US Olympian

Interview by Paul Heckmann, Exec Director, Memories Inc

Edited by Katherine Connella Weismann

Paul Heckmann: Hey, Sammy. Paul Heckmann here.

Sammy Walker: Hello, Paul.

Paul: We’ve got a to talk about so let’s get right to it. Are you from the Dallas area originally?

Sammy: Born at Parkland Hospital.

Mom Dolores, Dad Sam Jr, sister Vicki and young Sammy. Rumor is Sammy had just shotputted his pacifier to the other side of the room…

Paul: Sisters and brothers?

Sammy: One sister, an older sister.

Paul: Tell about where you went to school.

Sammy: Ascher Silberstein Elementary, Blanton in 6th grade, then back to Silberstein, John B. Hood Junior High. And W.W. Samuell High School

Paul: When did you find out you were really good at sports?

Sammy: Oh, probably when I was about 12. My dad was a great athlete at Woodrow Wilson High School, before the war. He was second place in state championships in discus throw. He bought me a shot put for Christmas in ’63.

Paul: And that was one of the little eight-pound shots?

Sammy: Yes.

Paul: So, from what I understand, also, in ’64, I heard that you were talking to your dad when you were watching the Olympics on television, and you told him that’s what you’re going to do for your life was going to be in the Olympics.

Sammy: Yep. And he said, “Sam, you have no idea how hard that is.” I said, “I don’t care, daddy. I’m going to do it anyhow.” I was driven as a young boy. That’s for sure.

Paul: Thirteen years old. To say you’re going to be in the Olympics and actually do it, that’s pretty impressive.

Now since your dad was in discus, he probably had a good idea about other track and field events

Sammy: Yeah, he threw the shot, also. He just was a lot better, and the first day we

Sammy’s Dad, a WWII Marine.

went to work out, I’ll never forget it, I threw 33 feet, and he threw 50. Because he was obviously a young man, and he was a homebuilder at the time, and in good shape. He had a pretty big backyard so we built a shot put ring. It was about two feet on our next door neighbor’s property, and we had to tear that part up. So we rebuilt it in the backyard, and ended up throwing across a creek. If you didn’t threw over 35 feet, it would roll back into the creek. It was the bank, the shot put ring.

Paul: (laughs) “Son, you’ve got to go clean the rust off your shot.”

Then the Olympics came on TV in ’64.

Sammy: I was in eighth grade. I was the big champ in the eighth grade, big champ in the ninth grade, and got ready to go to the summer amateur state championships down in Tyler Station. That was my ninth grade year. I said, “Dad, what are my chances of winning state?” And he goes, “Son, this is a big state.” Got down there, and there was a boy that had a big old black hairy chest, throwing over 60 feet in warm ups. My best throw, at that particular time was like 58 feet. My first throw was 60 feet, and the big hair chest guy, he choked. So, I beat him about three feet.

Paul: That’s pretty impressive.

Sammy: That’s what kicked the gate down, yeah.

Paul: Now, when did you start playing football?

Sammy: I played in the sixth grade. We had a really great team in Blanton. I went to Blanton for one year. We had so many great athletes. We were undefeated. There were nine kids on that Blanton team, and they graduated and had full scholarships to colleges. That’s how talented they was, then. Then, I went back to Silberstein in seventh grade, and played there. And of course, played at Hood and later at Samuell HS. 

Paul: Where is Hood located?

Sammy: It’s in southeast Dallas, near the intersection of Jim Miller and Scyene.

Paul: Did you do any other sports in school?

Sammy: Yeah. Actually, in eighth grade, I did all four sports. I played a little basketball. A little bit of baseball. And the funny thing about it, I was a pretty terrible basketball player. The coach looked at me, and said, “Sam, you did shot put last year, didn’t you?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “You need to stick to that.” He kind of encouraged me not to play.

Paul: When you did first feel like you had a shot at breaking the national record?

Sammy: I started taking Track and Field News in ’64. And so, that gave me a hunger for what everybody was doing around the country, and in the world, too. And in ’64, I started reading what the national record was. Dallas Long had the national record. Randy Matson had the second record. I became familiar, and the record was 69 feet, 3 inches. Dallas Long was also the Olympic champion in 1964. So I made up my mind in ’64 that I was going to be the first 70 footer.

Paul: And you did it. Tell me about it.

Sammy: My first big event was I wanted to break the 16-year-old world junior record in the shot put, and some guy had thrown 63’9” from California. And I was state champion that year to maybe 63’? 62’9”, or something like that, right? And I was about a foot away from breaking the record. My birthday’s in August. You know, you’ve got your track meets in June and July. Summer meets. So, I had two or three chances to go over the 16-yer-old record. And in Richardson, Texas. I was totally by myself that day. I threw at 64’6”, so they measured it, and surveyed it, and everything. I got credit for the 16-year-old record my junior year. I was state champion my junior year. The following year, as soon as football season’s over, I hit it hard. I began to train hard. Throwing, lifting. Don Randall with Sunset was my training partner, so we were going crazy. We were doing more than anybody in the country. That’s all we did and we loved it.

My very first track meet of the year was at Carrollton. I believe it was late February. Maybe early March. And the record was 69’3”, and I threw. My legal throw was 69’11¾”, but it was really over 70’, but the guy doing the measuring, he kept pulling it. He didn’t want it to be a 70 footer, and so he made damn sure it wasn’t. (Laughs) He had something against me, because he was a college thrower, and he was Russell Cohimosi. He was Randall’s SMU assistant coach. We trained with him and he was a pretty good thrower with a 16 pounder. He’s a Texas State University guy. I could beat him with a 16 pounder, and he didn’t like that.

Sammy on the cover of ‘Track and Field’ circa 1968

He got to college, and I was still beating him, so there he is measuring this track meet. And Randall’s kept asking, “What is he doing? It’s 70’1”.” And no, 69’11¾”. Then, I progressively broke the record every week. Broke and rebroke the national record, and continued my perfection of 70 footers, until it was 72’3¼” at little state meet, down in Forest Brook. One of them probably fell about 73’ at state meet in Austin, but the night before the state meet, my dad had a heart attack. And I threw 72’. One of the worst throws of the year at 68’. And I think I only had two throws that year under 70’, after the first one, and state meet was one of them.

Paul: Was your dad okay?

Sammy: Yeah. But he wasn’t there, and it was devastating for me. I threw 68’, which is like an average practice throw for me.

Paul: So, what was your top throw in high school?

Sammy: 72’3¼”.

Paul: Amazing. I remember thinking how great 45’ was when I watched Barry Joe Pledger throw it at Midway (my little HS). 

Sammy: Randall threw 62’ his junior year, and there was a guy by the name of Marx. We had three 60 footers right here in the Dallas area, but we were very competitive. And in nine months, I got a scholarship offer to University of Alabama. The next year, I was national champion in the shot put. We had a great time, a great few years there.

Paul: So, you’re doing really well in high school. At what point did you feel that you were going to go to college and throw the shot?

Sammy: The whole time. I knew that I was going to get a scholarship. You know about Randy Matson? He had promise. I met him at the Texas relays my senior year, we were able to meet. I was honored for that to happen. And this was ’68.

Randy, ’67 was his senior year in college. He wanted me to go to A&M. This is my junior year and I was just throwing 62 or three feet, and he was state record holder. And he introduced himself to me, and said, “I want you to do track at A&M.” I said, “Yeah, that’d be great.”

So, he graduated in ’67, my junior year. He was a senior in college. He’s five years older than me. And so, when it comes time for national signing date, Randy Matson is nowhere to be seen around A&M. He went to New York City as a junior stockbroker for one year, and was apologetic.

So, I had to make a decision. I said, “Hey, I guess I’ll just stay at home, with my mama’s cooking and my girlfriend.” I had a girlfriend at the time, who I ended up marrying. [Laughs] And so, I went to SMU instead of A&M. I should have gone to A&M. I probably would have had a much better career had I gone to A&M and worked under Matson. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Paul: And you had a pretty good time at SMU from what you told me.

Sammy: Way too much fun. It’s a party school. It was 1970. I was a strait-laced boy. And then, I told you I got married and then I got a quick divorce. We were married about nine months, and then she left me. And another strange story: I was playing football at SMU, 1970. I weighed 255 pounds.

Paul: Were you playing fullback?

Sammy: I played two different positions. I played fullback part of the time, and then I went to tackle. .I left school at 255. My wife left me, and I lost 50 pounds that summer. I weighed 205. I worked at Jackhammer, at Lakewood State Bank. I played golf all day. And I showed up to see Hayden Fry in late August of that year. And I walked into his office. You know what he told me?

Sammy for the Track and Field Hall of Fame

Paul: What?

Sammy: “Can I help you, son?” He didn’t recognize me. He didn’t recognize me! So, I played football that year, the fall of ’70. I was fullback. And see, I gained a lot of weight my freshman year. My freshman year was a terrible year. But I saw Karl Salb, this big shot putter from Kansas. He went from high school, weighing 230, and then weighed 285 when he started throwing shot put. The 16-pound, way out there. So I thought I needed a bunch of weight my freshman year. I gained 30 sorry pounds. And they used to do those caricatures in the paper about people you know and sports. They did a caricature of me, and they showed me with three chins. I had two or three of those caricatures. What’s that guy’s name?

Paul: I know exactly who you’re talking about. Bill McClanahan.

Sammy: And Bucky used to interview me. Randy Galloway was a high school boy who interviewed people.

Paul: It was probably about his prime time, there, too.

Sammy: There’s two things that kept me from being an Olympic champion. Injuries, which were a big factor, and I went from a strait-laced boy to a party boy, drinking too much. And everybody was drinking. Everybody was drinking. And I played hard. Don’t get me wrong, but the drinking slowed me down. In 1971, I was ranked 39 in the world in the shot. And then, at the time of the Olympic trials pulled around, I was ranked to make the Olympic team.

But that particular year, Randy Matson, George Woods, and Brian Oldfield did the same. And everybody was going crazy in spring of ’72, throwing far, and I was going not as far as those guys. In 1971, at the national championship, Matson threw one 67’. Feuerbach threw 66’ for second, and I threw 65’ for third. And when we got off the stand, Matson was 6’7” and Feuerbach was 6’, he pat him on the shoulder, and he said, “That’s a pretty good throw for a short guy.”

Guess what? I don’t know if you know this, but the short guy broke his world record next year. I like to think I was 6’1”, but I was 6’. So was Feuerbach. He was 6’, and we both were short and stocky. Matson, of course, was 6’7”. 6’7” was the range, and dominated the world for all these years.

And I’ll tell you a little story. At the Olympic trials, I almost slapped Randy Matson in the face. I swear. At the trials in ’72, it was Oldfield, Woods, and Feuerbach. They weren’t throwing that far. They were throwing around 68’-69’ range. And Matson was in fourth place, about four inches. On his last throw, he had to throw four inches farther.

I walked up to Randy and said, “Randy, you’ve got to throw another four inches further.” I wanted to motivate him, but instead, he shrugged his shoulders downward, and said, “I know it.” I said, “I know you can do it.” And I swear, if I slapped the man in the face, he might have made the Olympic team. That’s what I felt like doing. I couldn’t believe it. He had lost his competitive edge. When he threw, that ’64 to seventy – that eight years he dominated the world. Then the rest of the world caught up with him and he wasn’t able to compete like he should have.

I was good, actually. I wasn’t the greatest, but my success came from out working everybody. Period. Nobody was going to out train me. My biggest problem was overtraining. I didn’t have a coach, and overtraining’s not good, either.

I had two serious injuries in one year with throwing the javelin, with big old packs on. I kept throwing further, and further, and further. 210’. For a shot putter, that’s pretty good. And I hit the last throw. I was throwing against the javelin, and I curved my knee, and the spikes caught the ground, and slightly tore a ligament for my knee.

I was running a 40-yard dash against Paul Bradley. Beat him at a 40-yard dash, running 4.5. All the coaches were out there timing. And I pulled a hamstring. Anyhow, I had two or three injuries, and I guess it had an infection. I was in the infirmary for nine days, sick as a dog. Right in the middle of track season. And I can say, you know what? I would have gotten through all that had I not been a drinker.

I don’t feel sorry for myself. I made decisions, made some bad decisions. Made a lot of good decisions, too, but those bad decisions really kept me from being just the top ten in the world to the top two, to where I could actually make the Olympic team, have a chance for a medal, and stuff like that.

Who was that working with the Cowboys that I maybe talked to for two or three hours, one time? One of the first Super Bowls of the black running back?

Paul: Duane Thomas?

Sammy: Yes, Duane Thomas. He walked up to my shot put ring and was destitute. He didn’t have a vehicle. And we talked for a long time.

Paul: Tell me a little bit about in college. I remember you telling me the other day that you had some insight on Hayden Fry.

Sammy: Yes. Hayden, he shared with us the exact details when he had all his letter-men with him, when he and Jerry Levias were put in the Hall of Fame, 12 years ago, whatever. And we’re all up there, and we were up there for all day long, drinking beers, telling stories, and each one of us individually got to talk to him.

I had a couple of incidents with Hayden Fry that was great. One time, it was spring game. I was playing fullback, and there were coaches, of course, behind the huddle. And they called out the play that went to me. I was going for a touchdown, and I wanted to be dang sure I made the touchdown go through. And then I saw a linebacker coming in on me.

I thought, if I run a wedge to the linebacker, cut and spring into the end zone, he’s going to tackle me before I get there. That’s out. So, instead of just trying to run away from him, I turned toward the linebacker and ran right through him into the end zone and made the touchdown. And I went back to huddle. Hayden and all the assistant coaches, they were just laughing their butts off. They said, “I’ve never seen that before! I’ve never seen that before!” I knew he couldn’t bring me down if I headed straight over him.

And the key play, when we’re playing the University of Texas…you remember old Steve Wooster? The All American Fullback? I was wearing his number against scout team, and Joe Stetz was a linebacker. Anyhow, I ran up the middle about, I don’t know, two, three, or four times, making five, six, seven yards on the linebacker. And the defense coordinator was Utley. Greg Utley. You ever hear of that name? We called him Crazy Greg. He grabbed Joe Stetz and he grabs his facemask and he cussed him out. And that tobacco that comes out of your mouth, he slobbered it on his jersey, and – And he turned to Hayden Fry and said, “Run that play again!” Oh, my gosh. He knew right where I was going to be. He hit me with the greatest tackle, busted me good. I cracked a tooth. All but knocked me out. And I heard Fry say, “That Sammy Walker, sit out for the next play.” Guess what I did? I walked the next play.

I was in his office the next day, because I was on full scholarship for the shot put. I said, “Coach.” I said, “That shot put don’t hit back.” He laughed.

Paul: What a great personality. Hayden Fry.

Sammy: Hayden Fry was the greatest of the great. I loved that man.

I wasn’t a great football player. I was really quite average. See, when I was SMU as the fullback, I didn’t have that side to side speed, the quickness on left and right. That’s how I was.

Paul: Now, tell me about the Olympic trials and going out to the Olympics for the first time.

Sammy: Okay. Well, the Olympics – Here’s the deal with – Of course, I was in four separate Olympic trials. ’68, ’72, ’76, and 1980. One morning, Randy Galloway calls me. This is February of 1980, and I’m training with Michael Carter. Okay? So, he calls me about 7:00 on one morning. I was living there at the Lily Creek apartments, there. And this is in 1980. This was when my wife and I were going together, right before we got married.

And Randy Galloway calls me that morning, and this is ’80 now. I’m jumping ahead again. I apologize. I’ll tell the story, anyhow. Randy Galloway says, “Did you hear that Carter is boycotting the Olympic games?” And I’m thinking he’s talking about Michael Carter. I swear. And I said, “Why’d he do that?” And he said, “Because of Russia and Afghanistan.” I said, “What are you talking about?” And he said, “President Carter.” I said, “Well, hell, that affects me.”

The lift that vaulted Sammy into the Olympics. He never stopped smiling!

So, back in ’76, I’m ranked in the top 10 in the world in weightlifting and the shot put. I ranked in both shot put and weightlifting. And somewhere in the middle, there, about April, I see and discern that the Olympic trials in the shot put are June 15th in Eugene, Oregon. Okay. And weightlifting, June 15th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Paul: Oh, boy.

Sammy: And if it’s just a couple days apart, I’ve got a chance. I competed in the national championships in weightlifting and shot put were two separate days in Louisiana and California, and did fine. And so, they forced me to make a decision. So, here’s the deal. All the great shot putters in the world were in the United States in 1976. All the great weightlifters in the world were in Russia and Germany. I only had one competitor, Bruce Wilhelm. So, I had to – I knew full well that I could make the Olympic team in weightlifting if I just had an average day. Whereas, in the shot put, I had to have a great day. I had to go out there and throw my best to make it in.

And odds are, I would have been fourth or fifth place, because all they were throwing. Anyhow, I chose weightlifting, made the Olympic team in weightlifting. It was a life-changing event. Of course, everybody knew me as a shot putter, not a weightlifter. So, I made the Olympic weightlifting second sport. And “Why do you keep doing both?” And I said, “Well, I’m an Olympic lifter.”

I was the national champion in ’77, and national champion of shot put in ’77, and what the heck? I want to be a dual athlete. Herschel Walker was a dual athlete, and Deion Sanders and these other guys. I mean, I’m not in their category, but still, on top of the world in two different sports.

Paul: What were the lifts back then? Wasn’t clean and jerk one?

Sammy: It’s two. The press was taken out in ’72, so it was just snatch and clean and jerk. My best lifts were 480 pounds clean and jerk and 350 pounds snatch.

Paul: Wow.

Sammy: And I was state champion in weightlifting 11 straight years in Texas, and then national champion the one year in 1977. And competed all the way through in both sports all the way through the ‘70s.

Paul: I see that in 1972, it looked like you were actually going to make the team, but you broke your shoulder.

Sammy: Yes. Motorcycle. I bought me a little 350 Honda, this was ’71 and I got up one Sunday morning to go get the newspapers.

Wonder why I wanted to get a newspaper? Well, because I was on the front page of the newspaper. [Laughs] I’ve got a great scrapbook going, right? And so, I was driving, and one of my basketball buddies, he didn’t pay attention, see? He ran me into the curb. I said that 350 Honda wasn’t going but 20 miles an hour. Swerved in the curb. Well, as soon as I hit my left shoulder against the curb, you know what my biggest surprise was?

Paul: What’s that?

Sammy: I didn’t move the curb with my shoulder. It moved me. I jumped up to try to pick up my bike, and all of a sudden, no, you’re hitting the ground again. So, I was hurting pretty bad. This was at 8:00 in the morning, and I went all the way through until lunch, not even – the heck with it, you know?

And then, it was hurting so bad, I went to the infirmary, and my doctor, during this meeting, says, “Well, that’s the worst separation I’ve ever seen.” Broke my clavicle and severe separation. I was in great shape, in late ’71. Getting ready to tear up the world the next year, and it cost me. I could have made the team in ’72 in the shot.

Never got on a motorcycle ever again.

Paul: Okay, so, tell me about the Spoon Barbell Club.

Sammy: Well, Tom Witherspoon was a walk-on pole vaulter at SMU, one year older than me. A great guy. One of the top engineers in Dallas history, right now. He’s 72, now and still got his Spoon Barbell Club. Still trains kids. Spoon Barbell Club was second place in the national championship. He had a great team. Against the New York Barbell. We almost beat them, and nobody beats them.

I swear, the team was within a couple points of beating New York in the ’77 national championship. And yeah. Tom Witherspoon is brilliant. He’s my buddy. I talk to him a couple times a week. I talked to him yesterday morning. He’s a great, Christian guy, and I’ve known him since ’68. And he was a walk-on pole vaulter. He got way up high, about 14’6”, you know? That’s about all he did.

But when he started training in weightlifting, he got strong. And he’s a little guy, weighed 175. Anyhow, we had a great time. We had a lot of camaraderie at the barbell club. He’s got a ranch, now, in Texas. He’s got a 10,000 square foot metal barn where he puts all his weightlifting things up now.

Training for the 1976 Games

Paul: Okay. Now I’m going to jump back to the ’76 games. You were in the super heavyweight division. Isn’t that an open weight category?

Sammy: Oh, yeah. Weighed at over 242 pounds or 110 kilos, you’re within limit. So Vasily Alekseyev was the strongest man in the world. I lifted against him, and my claim to fame is I made the man look good. [Laughter]

Paul: Anybody that makes him look good is really doing something. (Sammy laughs). That man was built to lift weights. Now, he weighed up in the upper 300s or something at the time?

Sammy: Yeah. He weighed 385. He was huge, and he had a big gut. I didn’t speak any Russian, and he didn’t speak English so we didn’t really converse. He had a dozen eggs and whatever meats and stuff, plus a big old glass of vodka for breakfast. I watched him wash that thing down. The whole thing was very memorable, because we hadn’t much of a conversation. There wasn’t an interpreter there. But I trained with him a few times, working out, and at the Olympic games.

This was the first time they ever checked for steroids. They called me in for a urine sample one afternoon, the week before the conversation, about 2:00 in the afternoon. I went in, and gave them a urine sample and I was clean.

And as I was leaving, the Russian delegation walks in. “Where’s Alekseyev?” They said, “Well, he’s not going to be tested. We’ll just take him home.” And they said, “Oh, no. The stadium is – There’s 10,000 people that’ll be there watching him lift.”

So, the folks up top chose not to test him. Never happened, in the future. This was the first time, ever. This was a petri dish. When you think about the ’76 Olympic games, there’s three athletes you think about. You think about Vasily Alekseyev, you think about Bruce Jenner, and you think about Nadia Comaneci. Those three, maybe a few more in there, but otherwise, those are huge names. And Alekseyev, well he wasn’t tested. [Laughter]

Paul: Well, I remember in college, walking in there, and there was a little bowl on the table. And there’s these little blue pills in there. And I’m saying, “What are those?” And he says, “It’s Dianabol. Just whatever you want. Just grab them.” And I didn’t know what they were. I tried it out for a little bit. I didn’t really see much effect on me.

Sammy: You remember, Ivan Putski?

Paul: Oh, yeah. He was a stump. He was thick.

Sammy: Ivan Putski was. I don’t know if you remember that name. He was shot putter down in Texas. 6’6”, lean 335. So, Ivan Putski came up to me right before the Texas relays one year. And I mean, I looked at him, going, “Good God, I’ve never seen anybody look like that before.” He says, “I’ll bet you $100 that Butcher beats you today.” I said, “You’ve got it, buddy. You’ve got it.” [Laughter] I kicked his butt and won $100. I was almost scared to collect my money.

Well, one of the great wrestlers of all time was my old roommate at SMU. Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Most people don’t realize this, but when came to SMU, he was New York State wrestling champion. Not fake wrestling, real wrestling.

Jack Atkinson (aka Fritz von Erich), he came to me, and wanted me to train his son, Kerry. Actually, the year before that, he wanted me to wrestle. I said, “No, I ain’t going to do that.” I said, “I’m going to stick with shot and weightlifting.” Anyhow, I trained Kerry.

Paul: Wasn’t he state champ in discus?

Sammy: Of course. He almost broke the national record. I coached him. I wanted him to break the national record like he did.

Jack came to me, and introduced himself. And see, he was a SMU shot put record holder when I got to SMU.

Paul: I didnt know that!

Now, he got kicked out of SMU because he got married, didn’t he?

Sammy: Exactly. Most people don’t realize that exact truth. And you talking about Hayden Fry, you have to mention, I had to have permission from Hayden Fry to get married.

We talked. I sat in his office for part of an hour going over all the details to prove that I should get married in college and with a scholarship. And he okayed it. [Laughs]

Paul: Wow, man.

Sammy: And of course, Kerry … the drugs, and the draw of the ring, and all that, it just tore him up.

Paul: Now, they all would work out down at Doug’s gym. We’d go down there, and work out, and of course, all the guys from Sportatorium would be down there. Gino Hernandez, and King Kong Bundy.

Sammy: You know, they’re all great athletes.

Paul: Well, I still remember the Von Erich kids. They were all very polite.

Sammy: Oh yes. One of them came to my restaurant 15 years ago.

He came to me, and he sat down, and we had lunch. And I helped him on a land deal in Rowlett, because I knew everybody out here.

Paul: Yeah, he moved to Hawaii if memory serves, and has got two sons. I think they kind of flirt around with the wrestling, but they’re not…He was the smallest one of the bunch, outside of the very, very youngest brother that didn’t do much in it. But very much an athlete, still.

Sammy: I don’t know much, really, about the family, but they say that Jack was a hard ass.

I was at an event where they had SMU track team, and they took a picture of me, and Michael Carter, and a South African guy who broke Michael Carter’s school record. So, they had three school record holders in a row. They took our picture, and I told all three of them, I said, “Well, the most famous of the school record holders is not here.” They all looked at me real strange. I said, “Well, his name is Jack Atkinson.” And they go, “Who’s that?” I said, “You ever hear of Fritz Von Erich?” I said, “That’s him.” I said, “I broke his school record.” And nobody knew that. Nobody knows about the fact he lost his scholarship. He was on full scholarship for two years, and then he lost his scholarship because he got married. Of course, he was a serious classic. There’s – He was amazing. That was all – There was only one Fritz Von Erich, that’s for sure.

Paul: Oh, now tell me about the Queen of England.

US Olympic Weight Lifting Team

Sammy: This is the truth, here. I’m walking in on the Olympic opening ceremonies, and we’re the largest delegation, marching in with our little blue suits on. And I’m on the outside row, with the stands, and as we’re walking in, the queen is in her little box, there. And she’s waving at people, and I’m literally somewhere between around 15 feet away from her when I walk by. And I give you my word of honor, the lady winked at me when I went by. Either that, or she had something in her eye. I don’t know. Then, two hours later, I had lunch with her. Well, along with two thousand other guys.

Paul: Yeah, just a small, intimate lunch. All at the same table, too.

Sammy: Yeah. I was actually 15 feet away from her for 15 seconds, and she had her hot pink dress on, and the white gloves. Classic picture. And then, she came into the hall, and I got within about 50 feet. She’s still alive! Can you believe that? The Queen of England, she winked at me, and I thought that was pretty cool.

Paul: Did you consider going professional and working Europe, like a lot of Track and Field people did?

Sammy competing for Athletic Attic around 77-78

Sammy: Matson and some other folk started the ITA, International Track Association. There was four shot. You remember when they had those mostly indoor meets? Well, that was the pro track at the time, and Oldfield was there, Matson, Karl Salb, and Fred DeBenardi. From the athletes, that would be two little gangs, they started a deal, and it lasted about two to three years.

And when I came to Dallas, they allowed me to throw the shot against those four guys, as long as I didn’t make any money. And that was the night that I got to beat Matson. Oldfield won, and I got second, and I think Salb and DeBenardi, Matson after that. And that was at the Texas Stadium. They had an indoor track meet there.

Paul: So, about what year would that be?

Sammy: It had to have been ’73, ’74, ’75.

Paul: In between the Olympics

Sammy: Yeah, exactly.

And then, and I beat Matson. And he was going down to about 66’ or something like that. And Oakfield was making the big bucks, and he’s going crazy in the records, and then, of course, he was able to come back as an amateur after they took a lot time to get his amateur status back.

But as far as pro track, now. I think, what’s going on now in the world, that was way past my era. None of us was ever involved in any pro track.

Paul: Europe was the place to be for track for a long time.

Sammy: Oh, my God. I traveled in European tour, ’73, ’75, ’77 – We would go over there, US versus Russia. They would come over here, and we’d go over there. So, ’73, ’75, ’77, and ’79, I was in Europe competing every summer.

Paul: But you never were paid outright for that?

Sammy: No. We had our expenses and – And when we did California meets, we got a little money on the side.

Paul: Like a per diem or something?

Sammy: No. Cash money – I never picked up more than $3 or $4,000. Club would get $15,000 show up money.

As a matter of fact, Carl Lewis – They offered him a million dollars signing bonus in football, and you know what he told them? He said, “That’d be a paid promotion for me.” [Laughs]

Paul: Oh, he was good. He was so good.

Sammy: Yeah.

I love Sammy. Just one of the best, most sincere people you will ever meet. A really good man. There are people that come into your life that come and go. Not Sammy, he is there for you whenever you need him. Just one heck of a fella!

Burton Gilliam, actor 'Blazing Saddles' (and Sammy's golf buddy)

Paul: So about this time you ended up working at the Playboy Club.

Sammy: The Playboy Club. I’m so hazed on how long I was there. Damn, I was only there a week, 10 days. I got mononucleosis. I had just spent the summer competing in the shot put, and I was supposed to go – Then I was at Austin for the World Championship in Weightlifting. It was 1977, and I got to go to compete in wherever it was in Bulgaria. And I said, “Heck.” I literally was up there all summer long, and I just got back to working the Playboy Club. Then, I turned around and left, and I came back with mononucleosis.

Paul: Oh, boy.

Sammy: And it changed everything. It was a terrible year. ’78 was the worst year ever. ’79 I came back, and then ’80 had a pretty good year.

Paul: Tell me about the end of your competitive years. You moved on out of really competing, after, what? 1980? Around in there was your last big meet?

Sammy: Yeah. ’80 Olympic trials, my wife and I, we went up and stayed at the Olympic trials, I competed. I beat back McCarter in the Olympic trials, and somebody like that. And my good buddy, he got one, and we just – Anyhow. I threw well at the Olympic trials, and everybody threw around 66’, 67’, 68’, and I was right in the middle of the batch.

Paul: And here comes Randy Galloway?

Sammy: Uh-huh, yeah. So I am still competing but also helping to train Micheal Carter. I get a phone call from Randy Galloway with The Dallas Morning News. He says ‘Sammy, did you hear that Carter boycotted the Olympic games?’ I said, ‘Why the heck would he do that?’ Then he says President Carter and it clicked. My first thought was for Michael then it occurred ‘Crap, well that affects me too,’ To make a long story short, I eventually forgave the President.

When did you start coaching Michael Carter?

Sammy: His ninth grade year.

Paul: So, you were coaching him when he threw 81 feet?

Sammy: Here’s the deal, the truth of the matter.

When I say coaching… his sophomore year, Michael comes over to throw with me at SMU. I wasn’t with him all the time. I helped him, and I helped coach a little bit. His sophomore year – This is 1977. Okay, yes, because he’d be a senior in ’79. And so, that was a big year in ’77. He’s only 69th on the high school shot puts, nine or 10 years before, and he’s throwing about 65 feet, with 12 pound, which is really good. And I’m throwing around 66 – somewhere in there, and the shot was a 16 pound.

I said, “Michael.” I picked up the 12 pound one time. I said, “This is how far you’re going to throw your senior year.” And I threw out through somewhere between 77 and 78 feet.

And that’s exactly where he would start throwing. except for that one throw. The legendary 81 footer was incredibly rare, unique, and I know that there were several special circumstances. I mean, he did it, and that’s why he broke the record.

Paul: I sit and watched a video that they had, and it looked like he just kind of walked up there, and did it, and didn’t prepare for it, or anything.

Sammy: Well, there was two things that happened before this, not on the video. The first, he was getting ready for his last throw, and he’s getting ready to kick across the ring, and the PA announcer comes on. And in his bad timing, he says, “Michael Carter in the shot put ring.” And Carter stops, because it breaks his concentration.

Paul: Yeah, yeah.

Sammy: And Michael Carter was right down to me. He wasn’t the type of people that really got psyched up. I always did. I was a crazy guy. I always get myself psyched up. He never was. He was low-key, very methodical, and very technical, and he was able to throw.

So, the next throw, this is what happened. He get ready to kick down and the shot put ring is close to the track. 800 meter runners were running by. About the time he bends down to get ready to kick across, and it breaks his concentration. He takes his shot put, and slams it into the concrete, and he is furious. He understands the extra adrenaline that he received from those two pissed off events made him throw 81 feet.

So, he had everything going right for him. And so, when he got to the ring, and all you saw was a technically sound throw that went to the very left side of the specter, because that’s how – he keeps pushing the shot put every little speck, every inch, 81 feet.

And I was competing down in Los Angeles. And the press people, as soon as we got off the victory stand, that was at the longest throw in the world, was at 69’ at that particular time. And they said, “Did you hear about Michael Carter throwing 81 feet?”

That particular day, truly, truly, there’s nobody on the planet that could’ve done what he did. Truly. Nobody.

Paul: It’s going to be a long, long time before that gets broken.

Sammy: Well, I think, here’s the deal, because I keep up with it a lot more than anybody in the country. A few years back, there was a kid that broke his freshman record. Broke his sophomore record and his junior record. He threw 73 feet or so his junior year. That’s what Carter’s junior record. And so, before, natural progression, well, he’ll – And I told all my friends. I said, I’ve got be lucky to throw 75 feet next year. Anything that 75 or 76, he can move two or three feet. I said, no way is he even going to approach 80 feet. And he didn’t.

So, this kid was an incredible athlete, obviously. Both Matson and Carter’s sophomore, freshman, sophomore, junior record. And he could sniff the 81 foot. So, you’re right. You know about the odds of that record being broken, and anybody that knows shot put knows full well that that’s just the most incredible thing done in the history of high school track and field.

Before that was Jim Brian’s record. Finally broke it. I’m a track historian, and I love the sport. Very good with all the records and et cetera.

So, that Michael Carter was No. 1: He was a great athlete. No. 2: he was incredibly dedicated. I threw a hundred throws a day in high school, and he threw 150.

Paul: Oh, man. People don’t understand that wears your arm out something fierce, when you pop that thing at the end.

Sammy: Yeah, so true.

Paul: Here it is, half a century later, and you’ve still a top 10 thrower of all time

Sammy’s still a Top 10 thrower half a century later. Courtesy Tx.Milesplit.com

Sammy: Yeah. Well, all you’ve got to do is think about the local track meets when you read the newspaper. Because 50 feet’s pretty good. 55 is usually going to win. If you go 60 foot, you’re good. And there’s a few 60 footers, and rarely anybody throws over 65 anymore.

Paul: You’re going to get a scholarship somewhere.

Sammy: And I threw 70 feet over 11 times my senior year. The memories are amazing. I was so quick and efficient at shot putting and it was a 12 pound. I just out-trained everybody. That’s what I always did. I out-trained everybody.

Paul: Well, it’s quite a feat to be there in the top 10, still, after…well, I think 52 years or 53 years, something like that. That’s just incredible.

Sammy: You know who my good buddy Roy Martin.

Paul: Yeah! Roy the Robot.

Sammy: Yeah, I just saw him on the board of directors of our Olympian group here in Dallas. After all these years, there’s been only one kid that broke his record, 100 meters.

Paul: Well, you kind of segued there to the next section. I talked to Earl a little bit when I told him I was going to be interviewing you, and he said – Now, he was president of Texas Olympians during the older days, and he said he “handed the baton to Sammy.”

Sammy: Yes, he did.

Paul: Yeah. Now, and you also serve as a director on the OORF. Now, tell me what’s OORF stand for?

Sammy: Okay. Olympics for Olympian Relief Fund.

Paul: Okay.

Sammy: He started that in ’99. As a matter of fact, just last year, the president of our local group was ’99. I took over in ’99. I did it for a little over 20 years, and did a really good job, because we did make a lot of money in our golf tournament. And of the 30 chapters around the country, probably us, and Florida, and California are actually the most reliable chapters in the country, because we’ve got money to work with.

So, yeah. Earl Young is great, and you may not realize this, but he’ll probably end up, this Monday, being lured in as the new president of the OORF, simply because John Naber – You’ve heard of John Naber?

Paul: The swimmer that won about a million Olympic medals?

Sammy: Thats him. They just got voted on the United States welcome committee, which has never happened before. No athletes have ever done that before, served on the United States welcome committee. So, we have two advocates now in the US – it’s not call the USO anymore. It’s the USOPC, United States Olympians Paralympics Coach Association. All that’s changed.

So, Earl will probably step up as the OORF president this coming Monday morning at our board of directors meeting. I’ve served for 15 years, and Earl has served for 22 years.

Paul: Can you tell me a little bit about his charity?

Sammy: Oh, my good buddy. What he does is travels throughout the country, swabbing people for – Kids and students. He does a great job. He’s all over the place all the time, and he does a wonderful job.

Paul: Was that for blood disease?

Sammy: Yes. See, about a few years ago, I was at a breakfast with him. He was a keynote speaker at one of those fancy breakfasts, $150 a person deal. And I was at the table with his wife and his family. And he was speaking, and the person walked up to him and just nudged him out of the way. And I stand, because I thought that was the strangest thing I ever saw. And he started talking in the middle of Earl’s presentation.

They had flown in the lady from Germany he had never met before, and this lady, she was one out of 10 million people that could save his life. And she saved his life, with the whole blood donor’s deal. And this was on camera, with his whole family and everything, and they were over there hugging for the better part of two or three minutes.

There was a standing ovation for – He had never met her before, so. Which ever since, he’s headed this foundation, and he’s thankful for having had his life saved, by having people swabbed to save other people. And there’s hundreds – I’m not sure exactly the number. Maybe thousands. You could ask him. But many peoples’ lives have been saved through the swabbing program.

Paul: So is the swabbing – What does that do? Do you know?

Sammy: Well, they put you in worldwide data of your blood type and your ability to be the perfect match for anybody in the world. The entire world, not just – So, if you’re on the data system, and somebody has a blood transfusion without particular blood they’re going to die – Earl was going to die within three months, had he not done it, and this lady in Germany was a match. It’s a bone marrow transplant.

For someone who doesn’t know anything about Earl Young, to say, “Yes, I’ll do it.”

I visited Earl during his decline several times, and he was on his death bed. The fact that he kept doing this after he was healed tells you what kind of person Earl is.

Paul: Oh, wow. Let me give him a plug here for doing that

Earl Young’s Team

Tell me about Dorothy Franey Langkop.

Sammy: [Laughs] Oh, boy. How much time you got?

Paul: I wish I had known her. She sounds like a hoot.

Sammy: She’s one the most unique women in my life. To give a quick overview – She’s close friends with our family, and she lived to be 97. I put on a golf tournament in her name, and she was alive for the first golf run about 12 years ago. And she was in 1932 speed-skating Olympian, and she was ’32, ’36 Olympian, and she was amazing. They say she beat Babe Dickerson in golf one time.

Dorothy – She took me under her wing when I made the Olympic team, and treated me just – fun. I promise, of course, I’m a long-time friend with both her sons.

Paul: Sure.

Sammy: One of them’s a good guy, and one of them is a good (Laughs) Just kidding… both of them are good guys

Dorothy Franey Langkop was a truly amazing athlete. She was an ambassador. Here’s the deal. She spent a six-week stint at the Adolphus Hotel to skate and entertain people. And it went from six weeks to 16 years.

She was the toast of Dallas. She knew the Hunts. She was the toast of Dallas. My mother used to go down and watch Dorothy when she was a young lady. And truly good character. A lovely, strong woman.

I instated the Dorothy Franey Langkop Awards Program about 15 years ago at Coolhouse Springs. There’s a lot of great athletes who have received that award. The Dorothy Franey Langkop Ambassador Award. And guess who won it this year?

Paul: Who?

Sammy: Me!

Paul: No kidding!

Sammy: Yeah. And of course, I didn’t get to go. They didn’t have a presentation because of COVID.

Paul: What a year to win.

Sammy: Yes. What a year to win.

Dorothy and I worked to create the Olympic Alumni Organization and the Olympians for Olympians which helps Olympians in financial need because of illness, natural disasters etc. I was the founding Chairman and still serve on the Board. I was Pres of Texas Olympians during those days and handed the baton to Sammy. Sammy serves as a Director of the OORF also.

Earl Young, Gold Medalist in Rome, 1960

Paul: Now, tell me about pulling your neighbor out from his house in 2016. The tornado.

Sammy: Oh, yeah. That was – Well, there was a tornado that came through and hit 40 real bad, a couple three years before that. Lisa and I built a tornado shelter in our garage prior to it, so we had a tornado shelter in our garage. And we were inside it, and when we got hit. And as soon as I walked out to the door, I hear him screaming. They’re about 60 feet away, across the way. Everything’s just devastated.

We get in there, and he’s looking for his sister. They’re Jamaican. And we looked in there. His arm was broken in half, and his lung was pierced, and – They couldn’t get a firetruck around. And so, I put him in my suburban, and I – The hospital is only about two, three minutes away, but it was 20 minutes because of the traffic and the debris. Finally, got him there, and they wanted to stop me and say, “No, we’re full.” I said, “No, you’re not full for this guy.” And I just pushed right by.

Sammy’s next door neighbors house

They care-flighted him to Parkland Hospital, and he died 10 days later. He was the only casualty in Rowlett. And his sister was very happy. She had him for 10 more days. He would have died that night, for sure, if I hadn’t gotten him out.

Paul: People don’t understand just how nasty tornadoes can be.

Sammy: Everybody tried to call me a hero, and I said, “No. You can call me a Good Samaritan if you want to, but I would have done this for anybody else, and hoped they would have done it for me.”

Paul: Well, it’s good that you were prepared and had that tornado shelter, too. And decided you didn’t want to wait out by watching TV in your house, which a lot of people do, and say, “It will go past me.” That’s the odds — that it’s going to go past you. Right? But it doesn’t in a lot of times.

Sammy: So true.

Paul: It’s so true, exactly. You know, we’ve been talking for nearly two hours here.

Sammy: Is that right?

Paul: Yeah, it’s an hour and 52 minutes, I think. Something like that.

Sammy: Who knew.

Paul: You excelled at so many things that I tried, and I can appreciate it, from my end, because I know the dance of the shot put. A lot of people, they try and try, like me. We just simply can’t do it.

Sammy: It’s an art.

When you’re teaching kids that do this, and it is a little hard, I’m going, “Well, you’ve got to stay with it. You’ve got to keep trying. Keep trying, keep trying.” So – It’s not easy. There’s just no any way to put it.

Paul: So how did you get into the food industry?

Sammy: That’s an easy answer. When I was growing up, my mom was a great cook. She was a country girl, and when I was 6, 7, 8 years old, I realized one thing’s for sure. If you were in the kitchen helping your mama cook, you got the first bite. For a child, that’s important, right?

So, I always helped my mom in the kitchen. And therefore, I thought to myself, “Wow, I think it’d be cool to have a steakhouse one of these days.” 10 years old, I’d like to have a restaurant. And we wanted to try a barbecue place, and it worked out to where, in ’85, it became available – And of course, I went bankrupt in an oil field, you know, when Katrina hit. I went into bankruptcy there in Texas.

Paul: Wow.

Sammy: We talked a lot, and there’s still a lot more, but what’s most important is, yes, I love the food business. I became a good barbecue man, and we had 32 years’ success. And it kind of got slow right at the last, but we did real good anyway. Five restaurants at one time. Made a little money. Built a big old house, one time, and that was a mistake. 3,500 square feet on four acres.

As a matter of fact, Dorothy Franey Langkop, when she turned 90, had 180 people in my home.

That’s a lot of people.

Paul: No kidding.

Sammy: And of course, all the barbecue they wanted, Budweiser, all the drinks – It was a big party.

Paul: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Isn’t it crazy?

Sammy: Yeah.

Jerry finally accomplished his life long dream, meeting Lisa at the grand opening of the Star in Frisco.

Paul: So, now you own a Whataburger? Is that correct?

Sammy: We don’t own them but Lisa and I manage 20 Whataburger franchises.

We’re in the catering business, so we just pay year end. And so, I go out and create the business. We keep it, and we take care of business. And we did the deliveries, too. That’s it. We delivered early breakfast, sometimes, at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. Do late evenings, football games and stuff like that. We’ve been doing it for going on six years now.

Paul: Special events and stuff like that, yeah.

Sammy: Car dealerships – We just bring whatever they want, man.

Paul: I appreciate your time, my friend.

Sammy: It’s my pleasure. I appreciate you, buddy. The only thing I want to add, is how much I appreciate you, because you take the time to do these things. And just know that to tell everybody “Paul is my buddy, and I appreciate him.”

Paul: Well thank you sir. It’s greatly appreciated right back at ya! Thanks so much for your time!

Sammy and Lisa with the munchkins

I was looking for a title for this story and I kept thinking about one thing. Sammy is always smiling. He has this infectious, positive enthusiasm for everything he does and it starts with the way he presents himself. He's not the kinda fella who is easy to forget!

Paul Heckmann, Executive Director, Memories Inc.

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