With a Bounce in His Step

April 1, 2008

Bill Bamberger

Fifty-one years ago this spring, Robert Posthumus was hanging out with friends when talk turned to a stunt a bunch of Princeton boys had pulled off. They'd kicked a soccer ball from Princeton's campus to New York and back in relay fashion, with a number of students taking turns for various stretches of the journey.

Posthumus '59, then a sophomore and member of Duke's cross-country and track teams, recalls that he wasn't terribly impressed. "One thing led to another, and I said, merely in jest, that I was sure I could dribble a basketball to the steps of the state capitol and back," he recalls. "I figured it would take about eighteen hours."

Someone asked how much money he'd need to make it worth his while, and Posthumus came up with the figure of twenty-five dollars "because we weren't supposed to be betting, and I figured that wouldn't be enough to get me in trouble" if Duke administrators caught wind of it. Plus, he figured his buddies were as strapped for cash as he was and could never bankroll the dare.

That was the end of the discussion, as far as he was concerned. A few hours later, he heard a knock on his dorm-room door. He opened it. No one was there, but, on the ground, was a piece of yellow legal paper with the names of twenty-five classmates, each pledging one dollar.

Early the next morning—Saturday, April 20, 1957—Posthumus showed up at the steps of Duke Chapel to start his trek. Wearing khakis and a long-sleeve plaid shirt, he waited around for a few minutes, but finally set out on his own. He told the one other person awake at that hour—a campus cop—that if anyone showed up looking for him, to tell them he'd gone on ahead.

Around the time he neared the Durham county line, a sports reporter from the Durham Sun caught up with him, snapped a photo, and ran alongside Posthumus, interviewing him as he dribbled along. As the day wore on, word of Posthumus' progress spread quickly by phone and radio. Carloads of students from North Carolina State, Duke, and Wake Forest sought him on his route to shout encouragement. Governor Luther Hodges met him on the steps of the capitol and shook his hand.

Sportscasters announcing the play-by-play for a Blue Devils varsity baseball game transmitted periodic updates to the fans in the stands. By the time Posthumus made his way up Chapel Drive for the final stretch, a crowd had gathered to celebrate his achievement. As the marching band played a rousing tune, Posthumus made the last of the estimated 105,000 dribbles it took him to complete the challenge.

By then, he had long since stripped down to a T-shirt and running shorts. He'd also developed toe-to-heel blisters on both feet that took several weeks to heal. But he'd managed to beat his own time prediction by several hours, completing the round trip in thirteen hours and forty-five minutes.

In addition to the $25 wager, he also received a free steak dinner and widespread publicity for his troubles—including a write-up in the European edition of The Stars and Stripes. (His parents in Florida learned about the feat when they read about it in their hometown newspaper the next morning.)

Posthumus spent his winnings during a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach a few weeks later. And the ball that traveled up and down, up and down, for sixty miles? "I returned it to my roommate, Stephen Rudisill ['59], who didn't know I had taken it," says Posthumus.

"The nubs on the ball were completely worn off."