As the "Breakfast of Champions," Wheaties won't put just anyone on their iconic orange boxes. Most of the athletes to appear on the General Mills cereal's boxes since Lou Gehrig became the first in 1934 have been household names from a major sport. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Ken Griffey Jr. come to mind. But there have been a handful of exceptions to the rule. Here's a closer look at some of the less familiar names to hit the breakfast table on boxes of Wheaties over the years.
1. Denny Brauer, Angler
After he won Angler of the Year honors in 1998, Wheaties made Brauer the first fisherman to appear on the front of the box. PETA objected to Brauer's depiction and distributed postcards in protest that referred to fishermen as "cereal killers" and included the message, "Weenies: the Breakfast of Lip-Rippers." Wheaties issued the following statement in response: "We certainly respect their right to object and protest our decision, but we must disagree with PETA when they say that fishing is not a sport." According to the New York Post, nearly 75 percent of the boxes featuring Brauer were bought within the first week of their release. David Walker, the 1999 Angler of the Year, also appeared on a Wheaties box.
2. Myriam Bedard, Biathlete
Representing Canada, Bedard won two gold medals in the biathlon at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, including the 7.5 km race on a pair of mismatched skis. Following her Olympic triumphs, she was the toast of the town in her native Quebec. In addition to landing on the front of a Wheaties box, Bedard appeared on various magazine covers and was named to the Order of Canada. She married fellow biathlete Jean Paquet in a highly publicized ceremony in Hawaii, but her life would later take a bizarre turn for the worse. Bedard divorced Paquet and was arrested in 2006 for allegedly abducting their 11-year-old daughter and bringing her to the United States, a violation of a child custody order. Bedard returned to Canada in 2007 and appealed the ruling earlier this month, arguing for an unconditional pardon that would wipe her criminal record clean.
3. George Murray, Wheelchair Racer
In 1961, 14-year-old George Murray was paralyzed in a hunting accident. Twenty-three years later, he appeared on the cover of a Wheaties box. Murray, a two-time Boston Marathon champion in the wheelchair division, was one of six athletes selected in Wheaties' first "Search for Champions" contest. A native of Maine, Murray won in Boston in 1978 and 1985 and was the first wheelchair racer to break the 4-minute mile barrier. Murray, who graduated from the University of South Florida with a physical education degree, was selected by a panel of judges from a pool of more than 6,000 entrants. The other winners in the contest were Jody Lynn Beerman (Ms. Indiana Basketball), Sammy Chagolla (Arizona high school wrestling champion), Leslie Deniz (discus thrower and Olympian), Mary T. Meagher (swimmer and three-time Olympic gold medalist), and Chris Spielman (high school linebacker). Spielman would go on to star in the NFL.
4. Peter Gagarin, Orienteer
When Gagarin learned he was one of six winners in Wheaties' second "Search for Champions" contest, he told reporters that the honor fell "some place between mind-boggling and hokey." Gagarin was a five-time U.S. champion in orienteering, which involves using a map and compass to navigate unfamiliar terrain while competing against other teams. Gagarin hoped his appearance on boxes of Wheaties would bring some recognition to the sport, which originated as a military exercise in Scandinavia in the late 1800s. Gagarin recounts the tremendous backing he received from the orienteering community throughout the nomination process on his personal website. A panel of judges, including Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, and Peggy Fleming, selected the six winners, one of whom was a whitewater canoeist.
5. Marie Bartoletti, P.E. Teacher and Marathoner
In 2001, Wheaties sponsored a contest in search of an everyday champion from all 50 states, six of whom would be selected to appear on boxes of General Mills' new Wheaties Energy Crunch cereal. Bartoletti, a marathon runner, triathlete, P.E. teacher, and mother of two from Finleyville, Pa., won the contest, which required entrants to submit a 300-word essay. In addition to appearing on the front of the box—the five runners-up were relegated to the back—she received $5000 and General Mills donated $25,000 to the charity of her choice, the American Heart Association.
Some people's life goals might start and end with appearing on a Wheaties box, but not Bartoletti's. Three years after appearing on the box, she achieved her goal of participating in a marathon in all 50 states.
6. Eiji Oue, Conductor
Just how does a conductor wind up on a box of Wheaties? Being appointed music director of the orchestra in the same city as the corporate headquarters of General Mills is a start. Oue appeared on 8000 boxes distributed in Minneapolis, a small part of a $500,000 advertising campaign to coincide with the appointment of the little-known conductor to his new post after five years as director of the Erie (Pa.) Philharmonic. "I never used to have breakfast, but I guess I will now," Oue, a protégé of Leonard Bernstein, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Oue left the Minnesota Orchestra three years later to expand his career in Europe.