(page 4 of 17)
by Shane Tritsch
THEN Wide receiver, Chicago Bears (1983–87)
NOW “Freak of nature,” showman, dealmaker
Willie Gault was once a young man in a hurry. In 1983, he ran on a four-man team that set a world record in the 4×100 meter relay. And in football he was arguably the fastest wide receiver in the NFL—a blur who averaged 19.9 yards per catch in his 11-year career.
But today, at the ripe age of 50, Gault has hardly lost a step. In 2006, he set a world record for men 45 to 49 when he sprinted 100 meters in 10.72 seconds (the world record for any age is 9.58, by Usain Bolt). Two years later, at 47, Gault set the 200-meter record for that age group, with a time of 21.80 (Bolt’s 19.19 is the fastest on record).
A “certified freak of nature,” according to Ken Stone of MastersTrack.com, Gault works out at least four mornings a week—typically two hours of weightlifting followed by two hours of sprints on the track. At meets, he often beats guys less than half his age. What’s his secret? “Think young,” he says. “Eat right. I never drank or smoked a day in my life. Exercise. Treat people the way you want people to treat you—that helps you live longer. I smile a lot. I love life.”
Gault is a whirlwind off the track as well. Retiring from football after the 1993 season, he took up acting, appearing for three seasons on The Pretender and landing spots in several episodes of The West Wing and nearly a dozen other shows and movies. Now he and his wife, the actress Suzan Brittan, have developed a screenplay and several television projects. They sold one to a production company and are hoping to strike more deals.
In financial circles, Gault participates in high-stakes deals—he invested in the bankrupt Aloha Airlines, for example. And he devotes ample time to the Athletes for Life Foundation, the charity he started after several NFL players, including his former Bears teammate Todd Bell, died of heart attacks. The work of the foundation, he says, has “saved many people’s lives. That’s as rewarding as winning the Super Bowl or a gold medal.”
Recently, Gault has hinted he’d like to try to play in the NFL again. Even at 50, he’d probably be among the fastest receivers in the league, but he says he’s not pursuing it. Besides, he has plenty to keep him busy. The driving force behind the music video for 1985’s “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” Gault is spearheading an effort to reunite his teammates from that championship season for a Chicago celebration this summer, featuring entertainment and fan participation. And he has other items on the to-do list. Among them: “to break all the records in my age group,” he says. “And stay healthy—I want to live forever if I can.”
Photography: (Gault, then) Chicago Tribune; (Gault, now) Gregg Segal