California memorial service set for Heppner

Race walker's friend says depression wasn't evident

Olympics

February 22, 2004|By Elliott Denman | Elliott Denman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LOS ANGELES - A memorial service for Al Heppner, the Olympic race walking team candidate from Columbia, Md., who apparently took his life in a leap from a bridge Wednesday, will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.

A scholarship fund in his name will be started by the North American Racewalking Foundation, based in Pasadena, Calif., announced Elaine Ward, the foundation director.

"I had no clue, none whatsoever, that Al might have been contemplating something like this," said Tim Seaman of North Babylon, N.Y., his national race walking team friend and training partner in the Chula Vista-based group.

"Sure, Al was disappointed after the 50K Olympic trial last Sunday [a race he led for more than 2 1/2 hours before fading to fifth place], but I saw no sign of despondency or of depression, or anything like that, afterward," said Seaman, who placed second behind winner Curt Clausen, now a three-time Olympian.

"I know he went through a rough time in 2000, too [when he failed to finish the Olympic trials 50K race in Sacramento, Calif.], but we all kept reminding him that he still had a chance to make the Olympic team [by walking the 50K under four hours at the World Cup race in Naumburg, Germany, May 2]. "I may have been the last person who saw him alive.

"We'd gone hiking Tuesday, then ran together for 49 minutes Wednesday morning."

That night, Heppner drove his white Ford SUV to the 200-foot-high Pine Valley Bridge on Interstate 8 in San Diego County, about an hour from Chula Vista.

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