Gruenfeld joins the breakfast (of champions)
This report filed December 18, 2001
Gruenfeld, how does it feel to join an exclusive club of sports
heroes that includes Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Mark
McGwire and Mary Lou Retton?
feels really terrific," said the 57-year old Ironman Hawaii age
group champion from Blue Jay, California, of her spot on the box of
a new offshoot of Wheaties cereal. "I can remember myself as a kid,
and even as an adult, sitting at the breakfast table or walking in
the store and seeing a Wheaties box with an athlete I thought was
pretty cool. Now I am one of those people."
Gruenfeld was sitting at a dinner in New York on December 11
before the unveiling of the new Wheaties Energy Crunch box, when
General Mills' master of ceremonies Mary Lou Retton -- who appeared
on the Wheaties box after her 1984 Olympic gold medal in gymnastics
-- said a few words. "She said her brother thought it was pretty
good that she came home with five gold medals," said Gruenfeld. "But
he was really impressed when she showed up on the box of
Getting your mug on a box of Wheaties may be an unofficial
accolade, but it is an ultra-prestigious and probably definitive
form of the American sports hall of fame. And that honor befell
Gruenfeld, who was chosen, among some 10,000 applicants, to become
one of the six winners of the inaugural "Search for Everyday
Champions" who would grace the first boxes of General Mills' new
Wheaties Energy Crunch.
the December 12 formal announcement, Gruenfeld got to experience a
little of what it is like in the sports celebrity fishbowl. When
Gruenfeld returned to Blue Jay, she quickly did a morning workout,
then visited the Cypress Elementary School in San Bernardino, where
she conducts a volunteer triathlon training and racing program for a
dozen children -- seen in a segment on the NBC coverage of this
year's Ironman Hawaii. "I thought I'd stop by for 20 minutes, but
they made me go from class to class and speak to all 800 kids at the
school," said Gruenfeld, who posed for endless pictures with
students and teachers. "They were thrilled because the school was
mentioned with my picture on the box, and they felt they were a big
part of it. And of course they are!"
Gruenfeld spoke, it was with feeling about belief and possibility.
"I told every class that it was a fact that they now knew someone on
a Wheaties Box, and some day, with hard work and dedication, it is a
fact that one of them can be on a Wheaties box, too. I told them
‘Look, what happened to me can happen to you if you are willing to
set a goal and work hard.'"
Gruenfeld is a former special education teacher and high
tech executive who came to triathlon in the early 1990s after a
successful marathon career capped by a 3:07 personal best. With the
encouragement of her novelist husband Lee Gruenfeld, she graduated
from short triathlons to the Ironman distance in 1992, earning an
age group ninth in her Ironman Hawaii debut that year. She worked
her way up to an age group fifth in 1993, then took age group wins
in 1994 and 1995. She was second and third in 1996-98, then scored
three straight age group wins in 1999, 2000 and 2001, achieving a
personal best of 11:58 in 2000 at the age of 56.
Gruenfeld was simply invited to appear as a guest speaker at
the Cypress Elementary "Exceeding Expectations" lecture series on
December 1, 2000. "They wanted people who could serve as role models
to speak to the kids about setting goals and working hard, and of
course I showed them an Ironman video and talked about my Ironman
experiences," said Gruenfeld. "There were 200 fifth and sixth
graders there and somehow they got really involved with this Ironman
thing. They asked really good questions. Afterwards, I told a few
teachers there was a short triathlon suitable for kids in Redlands
in February, and if any of their students were into trying it, I
would help them train. Well, when the teachers asked the students,
200 hands shot up in the air."