Have breakfast with a champion

Hard work leads to Wheaties box appearance

By Rick Davis
The Desert Sun
December 28th, 2001

CATHEDRAL CITY -- Getting your photo on a box of Wheaties is no small feat -- regardless of one’s athletic achievements. One has to stand out to show up on the orange cardboard box that millions of Americans associate with "The Breakfast of Champions."

Olympic champions, baseball and football Hall of Famers, World Series and Super Bowl team champions, Tiger Woods, the U.S. 1980 Olympic gold-medal hockey team and so on.

For nearly 70 years, it’s been an honor reserved for the creme de la creme of the sporting world.

Next month though, a new General Mills cereal will show up on grocery shelves with a marketing approach that will target "everyday champions" and include photos of six such athletes on the box. With honey-toasted whole-grain flakes, crunchy protein clusters, almonds and extra B vitamins, it’s called Wheaties Energy Crunch.

It turns out there’s a local angle, too, because one of the six everyday champions appearing on the box is Cherie Gruenfeld, a 57-year-old triathlete and a desert resident for part of the year.

Gruenfeld, Liz Sponagle (New Mexico), Doug Ulman (Texas), Marie Bartoletti (Pennsylvania), Chico Hernandez (Maine) and Malie Matsumoto (Hawaii) were selected in a nationwide contest with Bartoletti the grand prize winner of $5,000. The other five each received $2,500.

Gruenfeld’s nomination focused on:

Her triathlon successes that include holding three age-group records in Ironman events, a stepped-up triathlon competition involving longer distances.

And a community-service fitness program called "Cypress Kids." Launched more than a year ago by Gruenfeld, it benefits a group of at-risk youth from the community of Highland near San Bernardino.Gruenfeld helps raise funds to maintain the program and also provides the coaching and structure which keeps it moving forward.

"I enjoy doing what I’m doing very much and feel it gives my life some balance," said Gruenfeld, a onetime marketing executive who "retired" from the business world almost 10 years ago.

"These kids in the program are seriously at-risk. The program is making a huge difference in their lives already. Most of them are 11 or 12 years old. They’re doing ‘short’ triathlons and 5K and 10K races. I train them after school, on weekends and during the school lunch hour. The program has taken on a life of its own.

These days, Cherie and husband Lee (a novelist) spend half the year in Cathedral City and half in Blue Jay (north of San Bernardino). The only woman in the 55-59 division to ever break 12 hours in an Ironman, Gruenfeld said the desert provides a good training environment for Ironman events and has been a factor in her record-setting (11 hours, 58 minutes for 55-59 women at Hawaii Ironman, 11:17 for 50-54 for Ironman Europe and an overall U.S. 55-59 women’s record of 12:08.)

As one of some 9,000 nominated, Gruenfeld said she pooh-poohed her chances of landing on the box, but that changed when she made the final 11.

"I’m thrilled," she said. "But the winner (Bartoletti) was clearly the best choice. She’s the embodiment of the ‘everyday champion.’ Getting on a cereal box, growing up, I remember the people who got on it. You never dream you could be on there, too. And it’s forever. It sure impressed the kids in my program, probably more than my triathlon records. They’re doing cartwheels."

Gregory Zimprich, a spokesman for Wheaties Energy Crunch-manufacturer General Mills, applauded Gruenfeld as "a true everyday champion."

"Cherie’s an individual who demonstrates a balanced life, achieving compelling athletic accomplishments and volunteer community service," he said. "She’s making a profound difference in the lives of others."


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About this series

Since terrorists attacked our country on Sept. 11, the selfless sacrifice of one to help others has been given unprecedented attention.
But every day and everywhere — even in our very own backyards — people are helping each other, though their work isn’t often recognized. A Desert Sun weeklong series looks at our own unsung heroes of 2001.

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If you know someone whose work for the community often goes unnoticed, visit our Forum and post their name and your comments about them. Visit thedesertsun.com and read all of our stories on our heros of 2001.