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Sherm and the 3-Legged Dog

Our intermittent erratic newsletter to friends in the trade, and friends in general . . .

I went to Stanford in the '50s and lived in the Fiji house, a fraternity that just happened to have an extraordinary bunch of guys in it. (It was always on bad terms with the national Fijis and hasn’t had a chapter at Stanford for years.) One of the members was Sherman Welpton, and I wrote the below to my college friends yesterday. I decided this (sunny blue) California morning to send it out to my mailing list, as I think it’s a story that can be appreciated by anyone.

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The first time I met Sherm Welpton, he was in his (and McGrouther’s) room at the Fiji house playing Fats Domino’s Yes It’s Me and I’m in Love Again, which incidentally turned me on to a whole new realm of music. He was one of the highlights of the Fijis, taking those huge down-the-stairs falls, playing practical jokes-vital, athletic, funny.

Well, we all graduated and took off on our individual journeys.

Flash forward to the late ’60s. Sherm showed up at Bob Birkie’s birthday party in San Rafael (CA), and he was FAT.

Flash forward another 10 years when my brother sent me a newspaper clipping: Sherm had run 140 marathons and was back to his college weight! Since I was publishing fitness books I was interested and started talking to him. In addition to all the running, he was a member of a Berkeley tap-dancing troupe. It was such a transformation it gave me the idea to do a book on “older”people who worked out. What came out of it, in 1986 was Over the Hill, But Not Out To Lunch, a book of interviews and pictures of about 50 people over the age of 40 who worked out. Stanford guys included Sherm, Manoukian, Zanuck, Curly Carswell, Spike Bullis, Peter Cole. Before long Sherm had run 200 marathons. One year he ran one every weekend for 52 weeks. He also ran the Western States 100 four times.

One night Sherm collapsed at home. I’m not sure of the details, but it was his spine, and he was paralyzed and he went into a wheelchair, where he’s been in ever since. On top of that, at some point he got Parkinson’s. He can’t move anything from the waist down, and moving the upper body is difficult.

I kept in touch with him. For one thing he was my stockbroker. So I’d go see him from time to time and got into the habit of having lunch with him every few months at his Oakland house. A lot of times when I went there he’d be shaking and I felt kind of uncomfortable, not sure what to say, but as the years went by I found out that his brain was fine on receiving data from the surrounding world, it’s just that you couldn’t readily see this because he sometimes couldn’t control his output.

One day I said to him, “You understand everything I’m saying, even when you’re shaking like this, right?” and he nodded. “All the nuances of conversation?,” I asked. “Yes.” So from that point on I’d blab to him about all manner of things and I’d watch his eyes and could tell when he was amused (which was often), and that he was totally with me. We’d relive Great Fiji Moments like the fetal pig in Camera’s soup, or the time he came out serving dinner in hasher’s apron and no pants on. We cracked up over the time we played the Mel Blanc record of “Hen-er-y Hawk is my name, chasing chickens is my game . . . “ and posted Krickerberg on one side Fritz on the other of Zanuck to grab him so he couldn’t destroy the record, or the time Sherm fell 40' out of the tree at the Fiji Islander at Maggie’s mansion, hitting branches on the way down . . .

Last year we had a Fiji lunch in SF in December. He wanted to go. I got over to his house to drive him in and he was shaking really badly. I just sat down and talked to him. Eventually the pills he sometimes takes to control the shaking kicked in and I drove him into SF in his van. As we came off the bridge approach I said, “Do you ever get depressed?” “No he said, I find life fascinating.” Shit! I’ve thought about that ever since. What a spirit!

Today (being January 24. 2003) I had to meet someone in Berkeley for breakfast, and I went over to Sherm’s afterward. For one thing, I took him some fresh chantrelle mushrooms. Again, he was shaking, but I was in my usual blabbermouith mode (and he’s a captive audience!), so I told him, among other things about the ’60s and how I dropped out of being an insurance broker because I thought the counter-culture was a lot more interesting than making big bucks, and how I gave Tony Serra his first pot (we smoked it on aluminum foil placed over an ice cube tray), and Tony kept saying “I don’t feel anything . . . “

We had a great (if mostly one-way) conversation, I showed him the pages of a new book on building and architecture I’m working on, and I could tell from his eyes he was having a great time. When I finally got up to leave, I said, “Did you tell me that day you that find life fascinating?” He said “Yes I do.” And then he went on to say that he’d figured out you’ve got to work with what you have. He said, the difference between humans and animals is the human brain. If a human has an injury or gets incapacitated, he tends to make it the focus of his whole life. But an animal, if it has something wrong, it just goes on with life. “Like a 3-legged dog,” he said. “if a dog loses a leg, he just goes on with his life and runs around like he’s got 4 legs.”

This was so perceptive and appropriate for his attitude to life, and I said, “Sherm, you’re my hero.” And went on to tell him how when I injured my foot recently I was depressed for months. He got the point. Then I told him about my Mom who is 94, real bent over, has trouble walking, it’s a struggle for her to get up, and every time I call her she says, “Lloyd, I’ve never felt better in my life.”

I went over and took his right hand and just held onto it with both of my hands. There was almost like a light coming out of him, it was his spirit that was healthy and sound, hanging over his body. The guy is awesome. A few tears started in his eyes, because he saw that I recognized his strength and his spirit, and we just sat there for awhile. He’s a brave and extraordinary person and right then he looked beautiful.

I’m writing this because I was so moved, and I pretty much had to do something with the experience and I thought you guys would like to know about Sherm who, although he’s not taking those blam-blam-blam falls down the stairs of the Fiji house, is still kicking ass.

Lloyd Kahn, Publisher
Shelter Publications, Inc.