By CHRIS LARICK
ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP - Drivers who regularly travel Route 84 east and Route 7 south may have noticed a man walking briskly down those roads for the past month or so.
If someone became curious and decided to follow the race-walker, he would see him head east on Route 84 from his starting point - Ron and Don Laird's home on Diane Drive in Ashtabula Township.
Three hours or so later, the walker would reach Route 7, where he would turn south, then eventually east again until he reached Springfield, Pa. Then he'd head back to Ashtabula Township and arrive back at the Laird home 11%BD hours or so after his journey began.
The man will make that trip every other day. On his "off" days he'll walk for only three hours or so.
"I walk on roads that aren't so busy with traffic," the man, Shaul Ladany, said.
Yes, Ladany does love walking (specifically, race-walking), but his primary motivation is training - training to become the first man over the age of 70 to walk 100 miles in a 24-hour period.
On Thursday, Ladany, a professor from Israel and a world-renowned race-walker, will make his attempt, race-walking as many circuits of Smith Field in Ashtabula necessary to make up the 100 miles. Ladany will begin at noon that day and keep walking until noon Friday. Ladany and Ron Laird have measured the course and have calculated that Ladany will have to circle Smith Field 285 times (plus 85 more feet) to cover the required 100 miles.
"Everyone, especially those who walk, run or jog are invited to come and walk around with me as much as they want," Ladany said.
Those who are able to walk the 100 miles in one 24-hour day or less are called "centurions." They aren't exactly rare.
Ladany expects his feat to be memorialized in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In the United Kingdom, Ladany says, there are more than 2,000. In Europe, about 1,000 more. There are additional centurions in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and the United States (which has fewer than 60).
Ladany himself became a centurion back in 1973, covering the 100 miles in 19 hours and 30-plus minutes under less-than-ideal conditions.
"I did it on a cinder track in Columbia, Mo.," Ladany said. "It had rained and three lanes were covered with two inches of water. It was muddy and slippery. Afterward, I left immediately for the Yom Kippur War (which had just broken out).
"I went back to New York in an airplane. People (in the Israeli army) who were willing to fly back paid their own way. I reached my unit and was in charge of an artillery battery."
Ladany was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1936. When he was 8 years old, he and his family were sent to a concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen.
"It was a concentration camp, not an extermination camp," said of the difference between Bergen-Belsen and other camps like Auschwitz. "Still, over 60,000 Jews perished there, from starvation and illness. It was liberated on Apr. 15, 1945 (six months after the Ladanys were interned there) by the British military.
"That was the first time the world saw the horrors of a concentration camp. They brought in a team of British military photographers. One of the team was a very famous movie actor, Peter Ustinov."
Though Ladany says he was never beaten or tortured at Bergen-Belsen, it was still a miserable, life-threatening experience.
"We were always hungry and had to stand in the rain and cold for hours. They made us count (off) and recount.
"Up to this day, I have an urge to eat tomatoes. Just outside the electric fence there, near the watchtower, one tomato started to grow wildly. My eyes were able to look at it out of the holes in the fence, but I was never able to reach the tomato."
When the state of Israel was created in 1948, the Ladanys emigrated there. Out of eight grades, he had attended less than five in four different languages prior to starting high school. Today he speaks eight languages.
He earned several college degrees - bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering and a master's in business administration. Then he went on to get his Ph. D. in industrial engineering from Columbia University in New York.
In 1967, he started teaching at Columbia while he was doing his Ph.D. work.
"I've spent 39 years in academia," he said. "I'm a chairholding, tenured full professor of mathematical and statistical subjects in industrial engineering and operations research (at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev). After getting my Ph. D, I went back to Israel. Several times I've taken sabbaticals to Columbia, the City University of New York, Georgia Tech, the University of Capetown, Singapore and Berlin."
Ladany has published more than 100 scientific papers and wrote or edited 10 books. He has been married (to Shoshana) for 45%BD years. The couple has one daughter, Danith, 35, and two granddaughters.
Ladany is probably known better for what he terms his "hobby," race-walking, something he's done at a world-class level.
"I set a world record in the 50-mile in 1972 in New Jersey and won the 100-kilometer in the world championships in 1972 in Lugano, Switzerland," he said.
His world record was set at Ocean Township, N.J. in April, 1972. He represented Israel in the Olympic Games at Mexico City in 1968 and at Munich in 1972 (see accompanying story), competing in the 50-kilometer race-walk. He finished 24th in the event in 1968, 19th in 1972.
"I was one of the (Israeli) participants that didn't come home in a coffin," he said in reference to the Munich terrorist massacre. "In both of those Olympic Games I was the only male track and field representative from Israel."
In some ways, Ladany might feel blessed to be alive. In addition to the concentration camp and a close call at Munich, he was in the Israeli army, on reserve duty, during several wars.
"I've had many close calls," he said. "I was released because of my age when I was 52. Once, a shrapnel shell almost hit me. I broke into a 100-meter sprint that could have been a world record until I reached a safe place. Some Bedouins and Arabs tried to run me over, but I'm still here."
Ladany won seven U.S. national championships during the time foreigners were allowed to enter them, a practice that has now been discontinued.
"If that rule had existed then, Ron (Laird) would have won more national championships," Ladany said.
In addition, Ladany also won championships in South Africa, Belgium, Switzerland and (of course) Israel.
"I've won many other long-distance race-walks," he said. "For a certain period of time, two or three years, I think I was the best in the world between 50 miles and 100k kilometers (about 62 miles). I think I was considered one of the best in range of distance.
"With the years, I added a little weight. I'm still training for long distances."
Ladany's next big project (other than his attempt to become the first man over the age of 70 to walk 100 miles in 24 hours) is a four-day walk from Paris to Tubize (just outside Brussels), a distance of 300 kilometers, or about 186 miles.
"It's a grueling event," he said. "I have done it five years in a row. I might be the oldest person there, so I'm training long distances. Ashtabula's citizens have seen me walking, with a small pack on my waist with water and bananas in it."
Ladany walks for about 11%BD or 12 hours, covering about 48 miles. He considers his lifelong pursuit of his sport a hobby, for easily understood reasons.
"Race-walking is grueling," he said. "It's not popular and there's no money in it. It's more popular in Europe, but what's starting to be very popular is non-competitive long-distance walking, multiple-day events. The biggest was in Holland, 50,000 people. It's a carnival."
In Ashtabula Township, Ladany is staying with Ron Laird, a man he considers underappreciated in America.
"Why come here? I've l known Ron for 41 years, since a race in Atlantic City in 1965. (Laird) wrote the journal of race-walking. He's one of the leaders in total race-walking. Ron has won 65 senior U.S. national titles (the second-highest total is 42, which Laird said took years to pass). He's a legend. Laird participated in four Olympic games and has been inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame."
Ladany is in his last stage of a sabbatical from teaching, after which he'll retire to status of Professor Emeritus.
"I have some long-distance events coming up in June," Ladany said. "This is an excellent solution for me, to come to live for a short time with someone (Laird) who is the most important race-walker in U.S. history."
By CHRIS LARICK