HAMMOND — Next time you run a marathon or need to drop weight because you haven't seen your feet in years, give John Bobalik a call.
The former marathon runner, local road race pioneer, longtime exercise/wellness advocate and 1965 Bishop Noll grad was among seven inductees to the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame on Tuesday night at the Civic Center.
The youthful-looking Bobalik hasn't changed much, though the rigors of running 100 miles a week in the '70s and '80s have affected his mobility a bit.
"Not so much my knees but my feet," he said of feeling the ill effects. "I can tell you my feet aren't what they used to be. I can still move, I can still run, but I can't run a 6-minute pace anymore, maybe a 10-minute pace."
Bobalik completed 20 marathons — five during the 1970s in times of 2:39.1 or faster — helped start the Calumet Region Striders Track Club, introduced the annual Highland Thanksgiving Pumpkin Plod road race, initiated the Hammond Clinic Corporate Fitness Program and co-developed the Purdue University Northwest Fitness Center.
He said the older we get, the more we need to work on our strength, flexibility and balance.
"It doesn't matter if I run a marathon if I'm so weak I can't pick up my suitcase and carry it through the airport," he said.
Also honored at the 32nd annual induction dinner were 1930s three-sport Clark athlete and St. Louis Cardinals minor league baseball player Wilbur P. Buerckholtz (deceased); Hammond quarterback and multi-sport threat David Tyrone Higgs (1982); Hammond wrestler Lee Marks (1993); Minnesota Twins farmhand and Bishop Noll multi-sport standout Marcus Smith (1994); award-winning high school football official/baseball umpire and multi-sport Hammond star Rick Stanford (1969); and high-scoring Morton basketball player Frank Tokoly (1967).
"This is all surreal," said Marks, who had a career record of 112-13-1 and was the 125-pound state champ his senior year. "In high school, I just wrestled, doing what I loved, without really looking at the achievements or accomplishments.
"I'm very proud to be here with these other outstanding athletes."
Stanford officiated high school football 36 years with four title games (1987, '99, 2003, '07) and baseball for 20 years with a state championship ('88) before retiring in 2012.
"I miss the Friday night camaraderie with my fellow officials the most. It was special," Stanford said. "I had a pretty good rapport with most coaches. A lot of work, a lot of long days and late nights and not coming home to the wife and kids.
"You didn't do it for money. It kept you young a long time until knees and hips started going out on you."
Stanford said fans' obsession with social media and officials being constantly targeted might've cut his career short 20 years ago.
Higgs was a three-time all-state quarterback and led his Wildcats to three conference titles while also excelling in basketball and baseball.
"To be totally honest, I've always had a dream of doing something special with my life and I consider this a special moment, but I didn't know it would manifest in this way," said Higgs, who works for the Department of Defense IT division.
"This is a blessing. I knew God had something special for me. It's a culmination of things I've worked hard for in my life in sports and education."
Marcus Smith was a Class 3A all-state wide receiver at Noll and the 1994 Times Player of The Year in baseball, once belting four home runs in a game.
But he had a confession to make Tuesday.
"This is a great surprise more than anything. It's funny. My goal was to go to high school just to play sports. I always wanted to be a professional baseball player," said Smith, who sells medical imaging equipment in Florida.
"I'm very humbled by the recognition. I played three sports but never thought anything I did would be recognized as having success."
Tokoly was among the Region's top scorers his senior season with a 22.5 average and helped lead Morton to a 65-62 Hammond Sectional upset of state-ranked Hammond in the first round.
"This is just a dream come true for me," Tokoly said. "I can remember in grade school coming here to watch all the legends play. When they informed me I was being inducted, believe it or not, I'm a talker but I was speechless.
"It brings closure to your athletic career. I'm going to put the plaque they give us right where I work out so I see it every day."
Buerckholtz had his plaque accepted by Ray Buell, 89, also a member of Hammond Hall of Fame.
Additionally, retired Hammond football coach and School City of Hammond athletic director Tom Zasada received the Special Recognition Award.