Sue Brodock began her competitive career in junior high school, running track for the Fontana Cinderbells in California. Having trouble with allergies, Brodock occasionally struggled through her races, so coach Bob Bollinger suggested she try race walking. In the Sixties and Seventies, women had few opportunities to race walk. However, the AAU had an active program, and their meets were to become Brodock’s main stage. In her very first year, she competed at the Nationals. And though she downplays her early success, Brodock must have been a natural.
With no grade-school or high-school walking programs, Brodock competed solely for club teams. In the early seventies, Coach Bollinger retired and she switched teams to the Realto Roadrunners, coached by David Japps. Japps’ strategy was to have Brodock run two thirds of her training and walk the remaining third. He would get her in great shape first, then work on technique.
While her sisters walked well, they didn’t have Sue’s determination and talent. To this day, Japps claims that Brodock was the hardest-working athlete he ever coached.
Still in high school, Brodock by 1973 had moved up to the Senior level, where she found few competitions for women and instead challenged the male-chauvinist walking world of the times by racing men. Japps remembers traveling to a men’s race in Arizona. Brodock walked well but was eliminated, allegedly because she was a woman. Apparently, when the judge disqualified her, he actually justified his call by claiming that no woman should be able to walk as fast as the men.
When I first heard this story, I thought maybe Coach Japps was coloring history. Sad to say, I was wrong. Gary Westerfield, coach of Brodock-rival Susan Liers, confirms that many judges in those days held a similarly disparaging view of women.