Skip to main content
Original Issue

Marty Liquori, Dream Miler May 24, 1971

Marty Liquori's hobbies are beginning to collide. "I can't play my
guitar now," he moaned recently. "I broke my finger falling in a
bike race. But I'm using the time to study harmony and jazz
theory." At 50, Liquori's life has come full circle. He aspired
to study guitar at Juilliard, in New York City, but Fred Dwyer,
his track coach at Essex (N.J.) Catholic High, called Liquori's
parents to tell them what a wondrous gift their son had and, for
god's sake, to make him put away that darn guitar.

Dwyer was right: Liquori ran 3:59.8 in 1967, his senior year, and
remains the last U.S. high school runner to break four minutes
for the mile. Though he was the best American middle-distance
runner of the mid-1970s--he beat Jim Ryun in a Dream Mile that
lived up to its billing--Liquori was unlucky with injuries and
made his only Olympic appearance at Mexico City in '68, where he
finished 12th in the 1,500 meters. When President Carter
announced the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, Liquori
decided to retire, with bests of 3:36.0 for 1,500 meters, 3:52.2
for the mile and 13:15.06 for 5,000 meters.

Liquori prospered as owner of Athletic Attic, a chain of athletic
shoe stores, and has broadcast every Olympics since 1972 on
television or radio. In '92 he learned he had chronic lymphocytic
leukemia, a cancer that attacks the blood supply. "The key word
is chronic. It will come back," says Liquori, who opted, with
good results, for a chemotherapy drug called fludarabine. The
disease has been in remission longer than expected, and Liquori
has reordered his life, selling Athletic Attic and cutting back
on the production schedules of the road-race and triathlon
television shows he does for ESPN, which include Saucony Running
and Racing. He gave up roller hockey but stays fit by racing
mountain bikes. He'll be part of NBC's broadcast team for the
Sydney Olympics.

"It all falls under the heading of gifts that cancer can give,"
says Liquori, who lives in Gainesville, Fla., with his fiancee,
Debra Main, and her two children. (Liquori's son, Michael, is a
sophomore at Georgetown.) Above all, the illness triggered a
return to his first passion, the guitar. Liquori continues to
take lessons, collects old records and esoteric books on jazz,
plays gigs in clubs and, for the past year, has backed a women's
vocal group, the Sweet Notes, which performs at hospices and
retirement communities. "Once you have that wake-up call, you
find you don't do things because they pay well or because someone
says you should. Without the diagnosis, none of this would have

--Merrell Noden



His chronic lymphocytic leukemia in remission, he has returned
to his first passion: guitar.