Support us with Kachingle!
July 26, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Larry Young stands near a monumental bronze statue on his family room floor. To the left, enclosed in glass, lies a ragged pair of racewalking shoes that were custom designed more than 40 years ago.
Young, 69, was raised in a variety of rural Missouri towns and graduated from Fort Osage High School in 1961. After taking shop class and entertaining a short love affair with playing football, Young collected his diploma and enlisted in the U.S. Navy.Related Articles
Five years later, 23-year-old Young was invited to his first major racewalking meet. Given fewer than three weeks to prepare for a one-mile indoor walk, Young was not surprised by the results.
“I got out for 18 days and tried to whip myself into some kind of shape,” Young says. “I ended up finishing dead last.”
Spurred by the encouragement of what he calls his “brotherhood” of racewalkers, the aspiring athlete started training even harder.
He implemented an arduous workout schedule that included living on a diet composed mainly of fruits, vegetables and vitamin pills, and he adopted distance techniques like those of a marathon runner.
Young used this regimen to develop the skills he needed to qualify and win bronze for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1968 and again in 1972. He is the only American ever to medal in Olympic long-distance racewalking.
Since the first time Young’s friend and former racewalking competitor Richard Hessler saw the Olympian compete, he’s been awestruck.
“I couldn’t believe anyone could walk that fast,” Hessler says. “He was the only American to do what he did, and he did it twice.”
As an Olympian with hundreds of miles behind him, Young was given the opportunity to pursue a different passion: art. Since his Navy days, when he learned to cast bronze, Young has felt the call to create.
While Young was preparing for the 1972 Munich Olympics, Columbia College offered him a full scholarship to study art. It is the only racewalking scholarship the school has ever given.
After graduating from Columbia College, he and his wife, Candy, took a two-year grant to study in Italy. During this time of immersion into classic European art, Young retired from racewalking.
Once the grant ended, he returned to the U.S. and built his own foundry in Columbia. He has been creating and casting elegant, ambiguous figures inspired by human movement in dance and athletics ever since.
His friend Jack Jonathan says Young’s interwoven interest in sports and sculpting is an idea that can be traced back to ancient Greece. “There is something beautiful about an athletic champion because of the very motion of a javelin thrower or a high jumper or a pole-vaulter or a sprinter,” Jonathan says. “Those are elegant positions.”
Young has made it his life’s work to evoke simplicity in complex models such as his bronze Infinitude, as well as in stainless steel and marble figures. He divides his time between taking on commissioned projects, such as the locally famous Nexus in Boone Hospital Medical Park, doing freelance work and attending his kids’ dance performances.
Young’s eyes twinkle when he speaks about his children and his art. He retired from racewalking years ago, but his work as an artist lives on. Young’s gaze falls to the empty space between his sculpture and his track shoes when he says, “I’ve still got a few miles left in me.”