Young at heart

PHOENIX — If the residents of Bear Lake Estates look out their window, pull out of their driveway or head on out for their morning walk at just the right time, there's always the possibility that they'll see something so completely out of the ordinary, a double-take is unavoidable.

It's a man, definitely older than most at the 55-and-older community (but just how old is hard to say), geared up in knee pads and a bicycle helmet, skimming down the road on a pair of roller skis.

His knees are probably a little more stiff than the average skier, his motions slightly more robotic, but still, the guy's cruising past one manufactured home after another, around corners, with the wind and against it like a college student who's late to band practice.

Of course, it's been a while since Dan Bulkley has stepped foot in a college, even as a professor at Southern Oregon University — 30 years, to be exact.

That doesn't mean he's got no place to be. Bulkley is 92 years old, but he can't afford to slack off now. This isn't a Sunday morning joy ride, it's training, and Bulkley will have to do a lot of it in order to defend his multiple track and badminton titles in this summer's Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah.

"He gets looks," said Marjorie, his wife of 26 years.

The rubber-necks can be forgiven. There are very few people who predate the Great Depression — Bulkley was born in 1917 — that can do the things that Bulkley does. He had the eighth-fastest 100-meter dash time in the world last year among 90-94-year-olds (21.75 seconds), and he finished first in both the 200 (2:22.29) and 800 (5:52.93) in the 2009 National Senior Games, held at Stanford University.

Bulkley was even better at the prestigious Huntsman Games, winning gold medals in badminton singles, the 50 (11.16), the 100 (21.75), the 200 (52.32), the 400 (2:13.30) and the 800 (5:44.18).

All of this started as a whim about seven years after Bulkley retired from SOU, where he coached the school's first track and field team for 22 years before being inducted into the NAIA District 2 Hall of Fame in 1977. Bulkley learned about master track and field competitions from a friend and decided it was worth a shot. Within months, Bulkley was racking up medals on the masters circuit, and breaking records, too.

As of January of 2009, Bulkley still owned 15 Oregon records dating back to 1992, many in events he no longer competes in, such as the 1,500 and the long jump. Worldwide, he's ranked in the top 20 all-time in eight different events, including four top-10 marks. His best event is the 300 hurdles; he ran the second-fastest time ever in the 80-84 age group in 1998, becoming one of just two runners that old to ever crack the 1-minute mark by finishing in 59.67 at Hayward Field in Eugene.

All the success — Bulkley also was voted the Oregon Master Male Track Athlete of the Year in 2009 — doesn't seem to be feeding Bulkley's ego. He struggled to come up with an answer when asked to name his proudest moment, and shrugged his shoulders while trying to name the secret to his longevity.

"Good genes, I guess," he said.

Even if he wanted to Bulkley would have a hard time hiding what he's accomplished. There's a slew of shiny medals, all gold, hanging in the Bulkleys' living room, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"I have more," Bulkley said before scooting off down a hallway. A minute later he returned with a poster-sized frame loaded with medals. There's a gold medal from the Japan World Championships, gold medals for cross country skiing, and many, many more.

"I've got about 10 more of these (frames) in my room," he said.

He's not attached. Bulkley's tentative plan, although he hasn't worked out the details yet, is to donate the medals to a local elementary school program.

"I just thought I'd donate my medals to the schools or something and use them for motivation for the kids."

Bulkley's training regimen isn't what it used to be, but he still puts in the time. He runs up and down the stairs at Raider Stadium three days a week and, during the summer, spends his off days in the Ashland Racquet Club weight room.

How long can he keep it up? That's a question Bulkley has a hard time answering. Instead, he points to a magazine on the coffee table. On the cover is an old photo of a silver-haired Jack LaLanne, the Goldfather of Fitness, flexing a bicep the size of a grapefruit and smiling at the camera. LaLanne celebrated his 95th birthday in September.

Bulkley looks at the picture and chuckles. Every year the races get a little more difficult, seem a little longer, but 95 is only three years away.

And what's three years when you've been running since the 1920's?

"The longer distances get a little tougher, the 800 and the 400," he said, "but I don't know, I just keep on going."

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