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Motherhood Helps Her Move Into the Fast Lane

January 12, 1986|JIM MURRAY

Ladies, are you in a rut? Feel trapped by the same old routine? Bored?

Like to travel around the world in style? Sleep where the crowned heads of Europe used to sleep? Prowl the boutiques and boulevards of Paris. Shop for leather in Florence. Maybe meet the Pope? Curtsy for the Queen?

It's simple. All you have to do is get pregnant. Put on 50 pounds. Stay indoors a lot. Quit exercising.

What do you mean, it wouldn't work for you? Let me tell you something: It not only works but you might be able to throw in three Olympic gold medals.

That's how it all worked for Valerie Brisco-Hooks. And you know her. The most famous woman track and field athlete since Wilma Rudolph, maybe since Babe Didriksen. The most famous mother since Whistler's.

Before Valerie became a hyphenate, before she married football player Al Hooks, before she went into the record books, Valerie was just a kind of in-and-outer in the track world. She couldn't seem to keep her mind on her career.

There were times when she was as good as anyone. There were other times when she couldn't catch a bus.

Then, Valerie hit on one of the oldest training techniques in the history of the world--pregnancy.

No one ever thought of that before. Europeans spend fortunes on laboratories, chemicals, computers, diets the whole paraphernalia of sports medicine to turn out superstars.

Valerie found all she needed in the delivery room. As usual, the old-fashioned panaceas. There was nothing wrong with Valerie that a good, healthy child-bearing couldn't fix. Motherhood was her ticket to fame, fortune, travel. Two o'clock feedings helped make her one of the world's greatest sports persons.

"Look at it this way," Valerie points out. "You get pregnant and, all of a sudden, you have to carry around at least seven to eight pounds of outside weight with you everywhere you go. Up the stairs, down the stairs, to the store, in the shower, around the house, around the block. It strengthens every muscle you got.

"It's better for you than a store full of vitamins or steroids or anything else. I carried my baby on my hips instead of out front, and it made me stronger in every way, but particularly in the hips, where I needed it."

Before motherhood, Valerie's attitude would have had to improve to be described as merely diffident. Her coach, Bob Kersee, who knew an Olympian when he saw one, wanted to break into a sob when he saw how careless she was with her talent.

In a melancholy way, she had her reasons.

The Briscos, 10 in all, were a family of runners. They were on the track at Locke High School in Watts one afternoon, working out, when shots rang out.

Her older brother, Robert, toppled over. They thought he was just clowning around. He wasn't. He was dead. He had been shot by a random bullet in a gang fight that had nothing to do with him.

So, Valerie's budding love affair with track and field chilled. It might even have remained frozen in time, but she married Alvin Hooks, then a wide receiver with the NFL's Eagles, and moved to Philadelphia, where she became pregnant.

More than her body chemistry changed. Her whole outlook did.

When her weight ballooned from 130 to 178, most people thought they had seen the last of Mrs. Hooks in a track suit.

"It had the opposite effect on me," Valerie says. "I knew most of the weight was water. I had a condition known as toxemia (resulting from the distribution of poisonous substances through the bloodstream) and I decided I owed it to myself to get back in condition.

"At first, it was just so I could look better. But, then, I noticed something peculiar. It was easier to get back in shape from pregnancy than from an injury. There was less pain to overcome. The weight was all water and easy to shed. I didn't have to rebuild any weakness, I was actually stronger."

She recalls that she used to turn on the hot water taps in the shower and the tub, both, and sit there for half an hour or more at a time. Then, she would wrap herself in plastic and gym suits and sweat for hours.

"I ate no meat or dessert."

She ate rice by the pail and corn by the crib, she recalls. The water poured off like Niagara's. "I was not only stronger, I was faster."

Actually, Olympic historians should not have been surprised when Valerie rose to become a three-time gold medal winner.

In 1948, another celebrated hyphenate, the Dutch housewife Fanny Blankers-Koen dominated an Olympics after becoming, at the age of 30, the mother of two children.

Frau Koen had the finest Olympics of any woman in history when she won the 100- and 200-meter sprints, the 80-meter hurdles and anchored the 400-meter relay for four gold medals.

Valerie won the 200 and the 400, an astonishing double for an Olympics, duplicated by no one, man or woman, in the history of the Games. She also won a third medal in the 1,600-meter relay.

Only 25, Valerie has a chance to surpass Blankers-Koen if she keeps her form till the Seoul Games.

Fanny, who completed in her first Olympics--she finished sixth in the high jump--in the '36 Olympics and then had to wait 12 years for the next one, failed to earn a medal in the '52 Olympics. And she was a victim of the chauvinism of the day in '48 when custom limited women to three events, even though she was a world record-holder in two other events, the high and broad jumps.

Valerie will begin her campaign to overtake Blankers-Koen at Seoul when she runs the 300 at the 27th annual Sunkist Invitational indoor track meet, second oldest in the country, at the Sports Arena Friday night.

Is there another baby in the future to help her get ready for the Games in '88?

Brisco-Hooks laughs. "Nope. One is enough for me," she says.

That may be the best news the opposition could get. There's a lot to be said for having a baby before an Olympics. For one thing, you don't have to pass any sex test. For another, it's not only the legal way to improve performance--it may be the best.

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