Scott's Articles



Post Script:

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Today, in Atlanta, a small group gathered with Uwe and Donna Brockmann for a commemorative event at the Georgia Dome.  Uwe skated 24 minutes in memory of his setting the 24-hour distance world record (on skates) five years ago this weekend.  On July 12 and 13, 1997, two time A2A winner Uwe Brockmann skated 296.27 miles in 24 Hours to set a new a World Record - before leaving for his honeymoon.

It brought back a lot of happy memories.  Thank you, Uwe.



Uwe Brockmann, the Groom - and his Bride, Donna Brockmann -

at his wedding reception, and just before waging his 24-hour

effort to take the World 24-Hour Distance Speed Skating Record.


For those of you who didn't get to be there that weekend five years ago, this is an article I wrote just after the event:

Uwe!  Uwe!  Uwe!

Uwe Brockmann's World Record Attempt (WRA)

A Grueling 24 Hour Speed Skating Super-Marathon

and - oh, yes - his wedding!

Sunday, July 13, 1997. 12:45 PM. The Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia. The last day.

Donn Baumgartner re-crunched the numbers. He glowered across the table loaded with lap timing computers, printers, and littered with twenty hours of half-eaten food, "It doesn't look good."

I slumped, "Are you sure?"  He was. Donna Swords-Brockmann, Uwe's (oo-vah) bride of one day, looked stricken. Uwe had to be told. Donna offered me the microphone. I must have blanched - Donn asked if he needed to make the announcement. I shook my head. Walking across the concourse Uwe had lapped hundreds of times, I fought back a wave of tears. Uwe could still pull it off, but we knew how precarious his condition was. I couldn't acknowledge that he might not make it. After all the training and planning, the costs - physical, emotional, financial. he might not make it. No one could accept it. Over the public address system: "Uwe, this is very, very important. Donn has reworked the numbers several times, and you can not take any more breaks."

Five hours to go. Uwe had to make it.

"It is critical that you not stop again. It is going to be very tight. You can make it, but you can not stop again."

No more cat naps, no back rubs, no projectile vomiting, no long pit stops. No breaks. He was skating 1'54" to 1'57" laps, and he had to average 2'03" for five more hours.

Uwe Brockmann is a 33 year old German national. He lived and skated in Atlanta for years while attending Georgia Tech. His visa said he was a student, but we all knew better. Uwe was, is, and always will be a skater first. Software engineering pays for wheels, bearings, brakes - all the absolute necessities. Until the World Record attempt {WRA}, Uwe had been wearing the same helmet since I met him, many years ago. His old apartment in midtown was stacked with milk crates full of old skates and parts, and a gazillion old computer magazines.

Skating is Uwe's life, and Donna Swords has been his training partner for ten years. A competitive cyclist and school teacher, Donna has crewed for RAM (bicycle Race Across America). Several times during the WRA, Donna said, "I have been much more excited and anxious over this, than over our wedding." Donna lives for this as much as Uwe does.

Friday, July 11, 1997 (three days earlier). 11 am. The Georgia Dome,
Atlanta, Georgia. Planning session.

Two guards at Gate E, suddenly excited - "Oh, you mean Uwe, the German skater. He's so nice. We're so excited for him. Do you think he's going to do it?" Then, over the radio, "Karen, there is a man here to meet with Uwe."

Uwe came to the Dome with a test computer, his skates, and many sets of wheels to sample. It took forty minutes to boot the computer - and a cable snagged on a ceiling hanger, grim foreshadowing of Murphy's future presence.

Georgia Dome Event Coordinator - Karen Wright, and the staff of the Dome, deserve commendation and the thanks of everyone who supported Uwe. For a nominal fee, Uwe had the entire upper concourse of the Dome, including security and engineering support (Dome temperature and music volume were adjusted throughout the event). Staff provided a bonus cheering section, as hour after hour they trickled up to the staging area to root and cheer Uwe on. Karen stayed late, showed up early, and helped us strike and haul Sunday night. Thank you.

Saturday, July 12, 1997. 6:45 am. Stone Mountain, Georgia. Race day.

Donna Swords cracked the door of her townhouse, bleary and troubled, "He hasn't been to bed. He's still programming."  With all the details he had covered, Uwe left for last programming his four lap-timing computers and printers.  That would cost him precious and irreplaceable sleep.

Uwe was using a cluster of four desktop computers and five timing devices to record the time of each of his laps around the upper concourse of the Georgia Dome, creating the official record of his WRA.  Without a certifiable print-out from at least three timing devices - there is no world record.

Quietly, perched over the keyboard in his back bedroom - in that unique, soft, slightly high-pitched German accent, "I am almost through. You know I have not been to bed yet."

A quick look to me with his lips slightly pressed.

Donna, trying hard, "You can do it, honey. You're going to make it."

Uwe, very quietly, "You have a lot more confidence in me right now than I do."

On he typed, correcting code and explaining function. As absorbed in programming as he is skating, I had to stop Uwe from proudly explaining all the bells and whistles as he went. There was no time. He could explain after his honeymoon.

Honeymoon? Uwe was getting married (also in the Dome) in under four hours: seven hours before he started skating. He was due at the Dome in two hours for wedding pictures, twenty miles away. On he typed.

7:45 AM. Family from Germany arrived in rental cars, dressed for the wedding. Hilga, his mother, and Ute, his sister, exchanged glances and wan smiles. Somehow, I gathered that a living room full of half-programmed timing computers, boxes of skate wheels, and a last-minute rush to his wedding did not surprise them. Within minutes, all were hauling monitors, printers, boxes of cables, and cases of metabolic fuel down to the cars.

Off to the Georgia Dome in a caravan of wedding guests and vehicles full of WRA equipment.

9 AM.  The Georgia Dome. Uwe is in a tuxedo - on time. Beautiful wedding pictures taken.  Wedding guests, perched like fans among the seats in the middle stands of the Dome, watch a splendid wedding at the edge of the balcony in the vast arena, beneath an arch of greenery. Without a glitch. Amazing.

Noon. The Georgia Dome.

I am no longer alone. Reception guests trickle up to the staging area to help. Computers are largely in place, but only partially wired. Everything is duct-taped down, as the slightest movement of some  machines causes different components to crash, or malfunction.

Cowboy on white horse arrives in the form of Donn Baumgartner, programming wizard from Austin. This is a good thing, because Uwe's timing software is not complete. Hardware problems continue. One by one, every computer crashes. Floppy disks won't read . or write . CMOS set-up information is bad . hard drives quit . thermal printers crap out . Seiko timing watches have no little bunny left. Murphy seems to be everywhere at once. Calmly, with humor and an eye for the highest priority, Donn programs on, sometimes with Uwe, sometimes without. He finally finishes.

We lose CPU Four's motherboard. Was I careless? It's the computer Donn was programming, and we have no software back-up. The old version is on a floppy, but the floppy on CPU One won't read, the CMOS on Two is fritzed, and Three is in a coma. I produce a friend's IBM ThinkPad, and Donn good-naturedly returns to code rescue, while we shoot down hardware problems. One skater/programmer goes after a back-up computer.

We only need three printouts for record certification, and started with four CPUs and five printing-stop-watches, but suddenly all our redundancy seems inadequate. Murphy is now King, Queen, and moving fast on the big throne. No one is amused.

Uwe naps, adding two more hours of sleep to the seven hours he's had since Wednesday morning, three days ago. He is starting a twenty-four hour, world record speed skating distance attempt on approximately nine hours of sleep in three days.

Starting time is pushed back, and again. New target: 5:45 PM. The mood is one of excitement, but tempered.

Uwe is ready to skate.

The Atlanta skate and cycling community is long familiar with Uwe's tall, mantis-like form. Slender, with longer muscles than most skaters, he seems much taller on wheels, even with his back curved into his singular skating posture. Once you have seen Uwe skate, he is like no other.

His $2,500 custom skates are unibody, formed for his huge feet, his rare use of heel brakes on both skates, and his T-Stop - lawn mower pull cords laced through the front of his skate frame, just behind the front wheel. Pull handle secured just below the knee, grab it and pull. The cord through the frame pulls the front of the skate up, and forces heel brakes into the ground with so much leverage, it occasionally rips a heel brake off the bolt. Uwe performs screaming stops on fast downhills using this method.

5:45 PM. Race time.

Seven of nine timing devices are now working. Sort of. (We later discover two printing-stop-watches are not printing, and another CPU dies). Five, four, three .

Uwe's legs seem to operate on some imbedded, crystal-based timing device. The first hour, his lap splits do not vary by more than .6 seconds either way: 1'51", 1'50.6", 1'51.2", etc. Often, the splits are within one tenth of a second. Lap after lap, hour after hour. One of the highest compliments you can pay an athlete is to call them a machine: mechanical perfection, nothing varies, close engineering tolerances, high efficiency.

It is soon clear, Uwe is a machine.

Midnight. Three am. Six am. The machine breaks down. Uwe fixes himself. Exhausted, he sleeps forty-five minutes (his longest break). His back is in spasms. He occasionally looks ghost-like as he passes the staging area, his focus always forward, on the distance ahead.

The upper concourse at the Dome is dead-level, hard-surfaced concrete. It is as perfect as a new wood floor, and as unyielding as ice. Only the expansion joints break the monotony of the glide. Once you leave the staging area, there is no visual clue where you are. Everything looks the same. Two-thirds of a kilometer. The crowd, the crew, and the big board flash by every 1' 0" - 2'04". The huge HVAC system in the dome generates so much convection, it almost seems there is a slight head wind.

Nothing changes but the music.

Uwe likes music. Especially The Rolling Stones and Queen. Also Abba, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Beatles, Beach Boys, Bee Gees, Neil Diamond, Eagles, Led Zeppelin, etc. The music gives the Dome the feel of a 600+ meter skating rink. It is a New Year's Eve all-night skate party, where the host can't stop. We are sobered only by the enormity of the challenge and costs of failure.

Sunday, July 13, 1997. 12:40 PM.

Uwe's last back-rub break, although he doesn't know that yet. Hunched over the chair, Donna works one side of his back, and I work the other. When he sits, there is no sign of the strength in his body. He folds over like a wet blade of grass. Fortunately, this break, his back feels looser. Donna tells him. But he looks bad. Donna straightens upright, hands up to her face, and mouths, "I don't know how he can do it."

I answer, "His head will get him through the next four hours, and his heart will get him home."

1 PM. I have to tell Uwe something positive. I have just told him no more breaks. No stopping. Four hours and forty-five minutes remain. He only has to hold on as long as his 1996 time for Athens-to-Atlanta. A2A is 86 miles, and Uwe has to cover only 67.5 in the same time. On smooth, level concrete. I tell him over the PA system, hoping I sound more encouraging and hopeful than I feel. I am scared.

1:20 PM. Despite our caution, Uwe stops again. "Seven minutes," he mumbles to Donna as she helps him collapse onto his pad. As before, he is instantly in deep sleep. Donn, Donna and I are frantic. Donn repeats: " he can't sleep, he can't stop." We decide to wake him in five minutes, and not tell him it is early. Donna stands vigil at Uwe's feet, stop watch in hand. Donn rethinks this strategy. Uwe, he reasons, truly knows the facts. Uwe is calculating his remaining distance and lap speed requirements in his head faster than we are crunching on our little solar abacus. If Uwe stops, he must believe he can make the time up later.

Donn convinces us. Uwe needs to call the shots. It's his party.

I decide to skate again. I have skated in the opposite direction for three hours already. My feet hurt, I am exhausted, I am nursing old blisters, but I am haunted by the gaunt image that floats by me - lap after lap, hour after hour. My petty complaints are pathetic. I can not stand with a microphone calling split times and encouragement any longer. I am asking him not to stop. What am I doing not skating. I decide to skate a few laps to test my ankles, and try for one hour. It is 1:45 PM.

3:15 PM. Thirty miles or so to go. Uwe and I are passing twice each lap at 24-25 miles an hour. I call out that we are leaving Check Point 4 of A2A, Georgia 318 at 120, and we're heading for Lilburn. Donna, who has never left the concourse, calls continuous encouragement with every lap and split time. She is his tether, and you can feel the bond between them through the Dome.

I have decided to try to skate all the way in. Uwe's heroic determination and discipline inspire awe and courage. I feel that if I stop, I will let him down. But I do not know if he can even tell anyone is out there anymore. There is no recognition, no response, nothing but what soldiers call the thousand-yard stare. He looks shell-shocked. Sometimes, he is in form. Sometimes, hands on his knees. Sometimes upright, limbs hanging loosely, a skating scarecrow.

5:17 PM. Everyone is demanding faster lap splits, as several are well over two minutes. But I know what Uwe is doing. He is coasting and collecting himself. It is almost time to go for it.

Uwe breaks away. Lap splits drop. 1'59", 1'56", 1'52", 1'49", 1'46" . down they go. My heart rate jumps to 145. Uwe's has almost never broken 120, the entire time. On he skates, blind to everything but the course. Now he is talking. Demanding. Has he broken the record yet ?! I ask Donna. She won't reveal. He has to finish. She's is afraid he will stop. I think she is right. Accusing eyes, he skates on. We pass. I call out, "One last lap, Uwe, you can make it." He is upright, his arms down. I skate on, but I know he is done. As I pass our cross point, there is no Uwe. I know where he is. He is in a pile on the finish line. He is done, and he has won. He has the World Record by three miles. He has skated over 296 miles in 24 hours. I am overwhelmed as I skate into the throng around him.

Uwe is not a machine. He is a man with indescribable courage, perseverance, and will. Sheer will. There is no luck about Uwe, except in having met Donna. That was luck. Everything else was Uwe.



Uwe Brockmann  (seated center in white)

and his bride, Donna Brockmann (standing in yellow)

amid friends and crew after breaking the

World 24-Hour Distance Speed Skating Record.

(the author in black "99X" at far right)



Thanks again, Uwe.  That weekend will inspire me for the rest of my life.

Incidentally, Uwe and Donna Brockmann also celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary this weekend.  You are both an inspiration as a couple, as athletes and as members of the larger community.  Thank you.

With great love and affection -

Scott Nilsson

Atlanta, Georgia - USA /

Copyright 1997 by Scott Barricks Nilsson - All Rights Reserved





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