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A Pair of Suspenders : UCI Harbors Champ of the Joggling World

February 11, 1988|MIKE SPENCER | Times Staff Writer

If combing your hair and listening to the radio at the same time gives you concentration problems, this is not your sport.

It's called joggling. You won't find it at the coming Seoul Olympics (or any other Olympics, for that matter), but it's a sport nevertheless, recognized and sanctioned by the International Juggling Assn. and the Guinness Book of World Records, among others.

A combination of juggling and jogging, joggling demands incredible concentration and agility, over and above the natural and developed athletic talents of your everyday track and field star.

Basically, it requires competing in races--from the 100-yard dash to marathons--while juggling three to five balls.

Reigning over the sport these days is 21-year-old UC Irvine junior Owen Morse of Tustin, world champion in both the 100-meter three-ball (12.12 seconds) and five-ball (15.25 seconds) events, and the vigorous pursuer of international records in several longer races.

When not training or working on a degree in psychology, Morse is the royal court jester in Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland, where, he says, he "just juggles."

Speaking only, one suspects, for perfectly coordinated athletes, Morse says joggling is "really fairly easy . . . a natural type thing."

"The pattern of juggling is the same as the pattern of your arm movements while running," he says. "They're both right-left, right-left.

"You're swinging your arms anyway; this gives them something to do."

A track star at Troy High School in Fullerton and later at Tustin High School, from which he graduated, Morse competed for UC Irvine until last year, primarily in the decathlon, but his work schedule has precluded involvement this year.

"I wasn't very good at the brute-strength stuff anyway," he says, "like the shot put or the javelin."

And while he finds his psychology studies valuable in understanding audiences at Disneyland and private parties, he's not sure what role a degree in the subject will play in his life after graduation. "Right now, my plans are to form a juggling team called the Passing Zone with a friend and spend about five years performing and competing."

Morse started juggling at the age of 14 and became a professional (meaning that he began charging his audiences) at the age of 17. "I found it was the perfect job. I worked kids' birthday parties and malls and stuff on weekends and made pretty good money," he said, "and still had plenty of time for schoolwork during the week."

He began joggling 2 1/2 years ago and won the championships last year, taking both titles away from Albert Lucas, the man who is best known for completing the recent Los Angeles Marathon while juggling--and never dropping--three balls.

Lucas has "let the word out," Morse said, that he will be seeking revenge at this year's juggling association convention, scheduled for Denver in July.

But Morse says he is ready to take on all comers and expects challenges from as many as 100 would-be champions.

An attempt at a world record must be sanctioned by the IJA and must take place at a convention. Under the rules, a runner must have competition or the effort doesn't count.

Like juggling teacher Jahnathon Whitfield (see accompanying article), Morse finds juggling a form of meditation. "It's hard to explain," he said, "but when you get beyond the five- or seven-ball pattern, everything is where it's supposed to be.

"This soothing, peaceful feeling comes over you, and you're just in another place--you don't even have to concentrate anymore."

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