Roger Owen, 94, shares tips on living a long time

I met Roger Owen, 94, a few weeks ago during a visit to GreenRidge retirement community.
I met Roger Owen, 94, a few weeks ago during a visit to GreenRidge retirement community.

It takes a lot of exercise, some smart decisions and a little bit of luck to live a long time.

That from Roger Owen, 94, whom I shared lunch with a few weeks ago at GreenRidge at Buckner Villas, a retirement community in North Austin.

Readers Gus and Jackie Browning invited me up for a visit, and besides lunch I got a quick tour of the facility’s gym and swimming pool. They’re a healthy bunch up there.

Gus and Jackie Browning invited me to join them for lunch at GreenRidge at Buckner Villas.
Gus and Jackie Browning invited me to join them for lunch at GreenRidge at Buckner Villas.

Owen, who grew up on a farm near Wichita Falls with eight siblings, attended Texas Tech University and served in World War II.

“The secret is good genes,” he says. “You’ve got to be disciplined, and you’ve got to have professionals to help you.”

Owen, who once flew B29s, worked as an electrical engineer and later served as vice president of a power company. Today he exercises in the gym at GreenRidge twice a week, walks 1.5 miles two or three times a week, does balance exercises and does what he calls “pool walking,” trotting back and forth across the swimming pool.

“You have to work at it,” Owen says.

He takes Sundays off, and keeps mentally sharp by working Sudoku puzzles. During our group lunch, he recited, from memory, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “How Do I Love Thee” in its entirety.

Perhaps most impressively, though, Owen told me he takes no medications. How many 94-year-olds do you know who can say that?

He shared a few more life tips with me. He says he’s never been drunk, he’s never smoked, and he and his wife, who has since passed away, were virgins when they were married.

Runner’s World Run Streak helps keep athletes motivated during holidays

Need help staying motivated to run? Join the Runner's World Run Streak community. RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Need help staying motivated to run? Join the Runner’s World Run Streak community.
RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Need a little motivation to stay in running shape during the holidays?

Check out Runner’s World Run Streak, an online community designed to hold runners accountable during the lull between fall races and spring events.

More than 18,000 runners have joined the FaceBook community surrounding the grassroot effort here.

Run at least a mile every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and Tweet about it using the hashtag #RWRunStreak. (There’s also a training plan on the Runner’s World GO app for iPhones.)

They call it “37 Days of Awesome.”

I like that. You’re less likely to skip a run if you’re working on a streak. And this one isn’t so long you can’t see the finish line. Plus, you’ll have other folks rooting for you.

Even better? Start it today, at the Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot.

Sometimes it's hard to stay motivated to run during the holidays. Joining an online community can help. RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated to run during the holidays. Joining an online community can help. RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Build-A-Bike lunches at ABGB: Eat, drink, donate bikes to kids

The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. will host build-a-bike lunches during December. Groups can purchase bikes that they assemble and donate to needy kids. Photo courtesy ABGB
The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. will host build-a-bike lunches during December. Groups can purchase bikes that they assemble and donate to needy kids. Photo courtesy ABGB

Forget small talk and bad hors d’oeuvres. Wouldn’t you rather build a bicycle for a needy kid at your next holiday party?

Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., or ABGB, is teaming with the Ghisallo Cycling Initiative to host Build-A-Bike holiday lunches during the first three weeks of December.

Groups can purchase one or two bikes for donation. Party goers show up for pizza and beer, and mechanics from Ghisallo help them assemble bikes that will be given to children at Perez Elementary School, which serves families hard hit by the latest round of flooding on Onion Creek.

The bikes, SE Soda Pop models, will cost the group the discounted price of $170 each and Ghisallo will provide a helmet, bell, lights and lock for each one. Party goers pay for their own food and drink.

The groups will assemble SE Soda Pop bikes like this one. Photo courtesy Ghisallo Cycling Initiative
The groups will assemble SE Soda Pop bikes like this one. Photo courtesy Ghisallo Cycling Initiative

The bikes will go to kids who are part of the Bike Club Program at the school. With a little encouragement, they’ll be pedaling those bikes to school after the new year, says Christopher Stanton, founder and executive director of the Ghisallo Cycling Initiative.

To schedule a party, email karena@theabgb.com.

The Ghisallo Cycling Initiative also will hold its end-of-the-year benefit ride, party and raffle on Dec. 10 at The ABGB as part of the Hell Yes! project partnership. For more information go here.

Jamie Tout nominated for World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year

Jamie Tout is one of 12 nominees for World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year. Photo courtesy Jamie Tout
Jamie Tout is one of 12 nominees for World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year. Photo courtesy Jamie Tout

Chalk 2015 up as a big year for Austin swimmer Jamie Tout.

In September, the 62-year-old swam 20.2 miles across the Catalina Channel off the California coast in 11 hours and 18 minutes. Then, just three days later, he swam 28.5 miles around Manhattan to log his 10th circumnavigation of the skyscraper-clad island in New York. And he did it 13 minutes faster than his previous best time, back in 1991 when he was 38 years old.

Now the World Open Water Swimming Association has named Tout one of 12 nominees – and the only American – for title of 2015 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

The award recognizes a lifetime of swimming. Tout has completed what’s known in swimming circles as the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming – meaning he’s swum the English Channel, the Catalina Channel and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. He’s also the second oldest swimmer to log those endurance swims.

Tout, also a runner and triathlete, finished the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in 1981. His personal record in the marathon is 2 hours and 48 minutes. He swam around Manhattan Island for the first time in 1985, then made his English Channel crossing in 1987.

Jamie Tout, shown in this 2005 file photo by Larry Kolvoord, swam across the Catalina Channel and around Manhattan Island this year.
Jamie Tout, shown in this 2005 file photo by Larry Kolvoord, swam across the Catalina Channel and around Manhattan Island this year.

What sets Tout apart, though, is that he’d hung up his goggles after being diagnosed with heart disease.

“The doctor said four years ago it was a thin red line separating me from death,” he says. “I decided then I was going to quit and get a tattoo. Then something amazing happened in 2014. I read online that George Bush Sr. jumped out of plane at age 90. I told my wife, ‘That kind of reminds me of me.’”

Tout started swimming again. At first, he couldn’t hold his breath long enough to do a proper flip turn. He gradually picked up speed and distance. Eventually he was knocking off 8- or 9-mile swims every weekend.

Tout is nominated alongside ocean swimmers, ice swimming record holders, ocean advocates and an Olympian for the award. The winner will be chosen based on an online voting poll.

“To me it’s a great honor. it’s a confirmation of something I’ve spent a whole lifetime doing,” he said.

The contest ends Jan. 1. To vote, go here.

Kudos to Ortega Elementary for selling fruit, not candy, as fund-raiser

Ortega Elementary in Austin is selling organic oranges grown in Weslaco as a fund-raiser. Photo courtesy Ortega Elementary
Ortega Elementary in Austin is selling organic oranges grown in Weslaco as a fund-raiser. Photo courtesy Ortega Elementary

I’ve always wondered why schools and clubs so often sell chocolate bars and cookies to raise money for field trips. (And don’t even get me started on the school-sponsored mattress sale in my neighborhood!)

Do we have to promote poor eating habits to fund extracurricular activities?

At Ortega Elementary in East Austin, the answer is no.

Ortega is partnering with the Sustainable Food Center, which promotes healthy food in schools, to sell organic oranges from Texas grower G&S Groves.

Twenty-pound bags sell for $15. Proceeds from the sale will supplement Title I funds that pay for off-campus excursions.

The school will accept orders through Dec. 2 at the school, 1135 Garland Avenue. Pickup is Dec. 15-17.

Staff members at Ortega say they hope other schools follow their example of organizing healthy fund-raisers.

I like their plan. I love fresh-squeezed orange juice, and I’ve got enough cookies and candy in my life already.

 

Diana Nyad recounts her Cuba to Florida swim in ‘Find a Way’

Diana Nyad prepares to jump in the water and begin her attempt to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys in this screen grab from the documentary "The Other Side."
Diana Nyad prepares to jump in the water and begin her attempt to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys in this screen grab from the documentary “The Other Side.”

 

I met Diana Nyad in 2013, when she came to Austin for the SXSW film festival premiere of the documentary “The Other Shore,” about her failed attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida.

Pam LeBlanc met Diana Nyad in 2013, a few months before she finally swam 111 miles from Cuba to Key West, Fla.
Pam LeBlanc met Diana Nyad in 2013, a few months before she finally swam 111 miles from Cuba to Key West, Fla.

She chatted with a small group of fans, who met her for a morning walk around downtown Austin. She made a point to talk with each of us, encouraging us to try something in our life that seemed impossible.

Nyad walked through downtown Austin with fans during her 2013 visit. Pam LeBlanc photo
Nyad walked through downtown Austin with fans during her 2013 visit. Pam LeBlanc photo

Diana Nyad's book, "Find a Way," recounts her attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida. Photo courtesy Knopf
Diana Nyad’s book, “Find a Way,” recounts her attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida. Photo courtesy Knopf

Preparing for such a long swim takes stamina. It also involves tons of calories, a mental fortitude that few possess and, it turns out, plenty of vomiting. Nyad spent countless hours in pools and the ocean, swimming for eight, 12 and even 24 hours at a time, with a stroke as regular as a metronome. She’s not afraid of a dark, bottomless ocean, or the thought of sharks that might be circling underneath her at any moment.

It’s fascinating stuff, and it’ll put your laps across Barton Springs in perspective

Austin gets gold status on list of bicycle-friendly communities

A cyclist commutes along Rio Grande Street using a dedicated bike lane in West Campus Austin. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
A cyclist commutes along Rio Grande Street using a dedicated bike lane in West Campus Austin. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Take a bow, Austin cycling community.

Our city has been upgraded to gold level status on the League of American Bicyclists’ list of Bicycle Friendly Communities. That makes us the only city in Texas, and one of just 24 in the country, with gold status.

Each year, the League ranks cities across the country, based on their infrastructure, laws and strength of local advocacy organizations.

Five cities – Madison, Wisc., Fort Collins and Boulder, Colo., Portland, Ore., and Davis, Calif. – all have the highest level of status, platinum. In Texas, Brownsville, Plano, The Woodlands, San Antonio, Richardson and Houston all earned bronze status.

Mercedes Feris, executive director of Bike Austin, points to the city’s more than 250 miles of bike lanes, including 30 miles of protected and buffered bike lanes, as reasons for the city’s new high ranking.

“The crown jewels of our urban trail network, like the Southern Walnut Creek Trail, the Boardwalk and the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, have put Austin on the map,” Feris said in a press release. “And Austin B-cycle, which Bike Austin helped bring to town, is now one of the most successful bike share systems in the country.”

A cyclist commutes along Rio Grande Street using a dedicated bike lane in West Campus RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
A cyclist commutes along Rio Grande Street using a dedicated bike lane in West Campus RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

As Austin Transportation Director Rob Spillar says, it’s about the benefits bicycling brings to Austin.

“It’s good for your health, great for your family’s transportation budget, and may be the quickest way to get around town,” Spillar said in a press release. “Austin’s commitment to bicycling is evident through the implementation of our recently adopted Bicycle Master Plan, which will make bicycling safer, more comfortable and convenient for people of all ages and abilities.”

The University of Texas, along with Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University, also gets bronze status on the organization’s list of bicycle friendly universities.

If you ride your bike to work most days like I do, you might find the designation a little baffling. I still get flipped off by motorists and buzzed by fast-moving cars. And the state of Texas still ranks an underwhelming number 30 on the League’s list of Bicycle Friendly States.

Time to aim for higher, folks. But it’s a positive step, and one that Feris hopes to build on.

“We look forward to working with our partners in the community, city government and staff to make Austin a platinum-level bicycle-friendly community by the next round of community reviews in 2019,” she said.

For more information about the League’s announcement, go here.

 

Need a new trail? Head to the Doeskin Ranch Unit of Balcones Canyonlands NWR

Hikers make their way along a trail at the Doeskin Unit of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Hikers make their way along a trail at the Doeskin Unit of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

Looking for new trails to roam? Head north to the Doeskin Ranch Unit of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.

I spent a few hours Saturday hiking the ranch, part of more than 30,000 acres set aside for preservation as part of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. The land protects habitat that’s important to endangered species, including the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler that nest here.

Hikers gather at the trailhead before striking out on two-hour walk. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Hikers gather at the trailhead before striking out on two-hour walk. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

The trip marked the latest of the REI Best Hill Country Hikes series with Fit City. (Read on to find out about upcoming hikes.) Cody Ackerman and Ivey Kaiser of REI’s Outdoor School in Austin led the excursion, herding the 20 or so participants along the trail, sharing a bit of the property’s history and answering questions about the plants and animals that live in the area.

The logs used in this old ranch structure were cut to shed water. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
The logs used in this old ranch structure were cut to shed water. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

We headed out first on the short Creek Trail. Ten minutes in we paused to check out the ruins of an old log shed, a remnant of the land’s previous incarnation as a ranch. From there we hiked along the creek, stopping to admire an undercut bank and a row of tablet-shaped boulders that looked like a toppled stack of dominoes – all evidence of the power of water that arranged them this way.

From there our group marched like ants through fields of waving, rust-colored grasses and up a few easy switchbacks to a lookout point at the top of a ridge where we could see for miles into the Hill Country.

Hikers make their way down switchbacks at the Doeskin Ranch Unit. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Hikers make their way down switchbacks at the Doeskin Ranch Unit. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

Views like this work like salve on my soul, which craves wide open spaces. I needed that view after seeing all the development popping up along U.S. Highway 183 during the hour-long drive to get to the preserve.

Among the tidbits I learned during the outing?

Fall asters brighten the trail. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Fall asters brighten the trail. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
  • Only ash junipers that are 40 years or older slough off strips of bark. It’s an easy way to tell the tree’s approximate age.
  • Each fuzzy little burst of orangey-colored bristles on a prickly pear is capable of spawning an entire new cactus, so if you don’t want the plant to spread, don’t mow over it. You’ll just be propigating new thorny cacti.
  • Golden-cheeked warblers use strips of bark from ash juniper to make their nests.

More than 5 miles of trails crisscross the Doeskin Ranch Unit, which is open from sunrise to sunset year round. (I’m a trail runner, and I couldn’t help but thinking this might be a good place to go for a run.)

Trails weave through prairie and woodland forest, along creeks, into an old oak forest and to the top of a plateau. The land became a National Recreation Trail in 2005.

Hikers cross a creek at the Doeskin Ranch Unit of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Hikers cross a creek at the Doeskin Ranch Unit of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

I’m looking forward to the next REI-Fit City hike, scheduled for Dec. 12 at Pedernales Falls State Park. Want in on the action? Sign up here. The hikes start at 9 a.m. and last about two hours. Cost is $20 for members; $40 for members.

Pam LeBlanc poses with Cody Ackerman, head of the REI Outdoor School in Austin. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Pam LeBlanc poses with Cody Ackerman, head of the REI Outdoor School in Austin. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

Here’s the upcoming schedule:

  • Dec. 12 – Pedernales Falls State Park
  • Jan. 9 – St. Edwards Park
  • Feb. 13 – Spring Lake Natural Area in San Marcos

If you go: Doeskin Ranch is on RR 1174. From Austin, take U.S. Highway 183 north to Highway 29. Head west, toward Liberty Hill, then turn south onto RR 1869. Travel about 10 miles, then turn left onto RR 1174. The parking lot is on your left. for more information about the Balcones Canyonlands, go here.

 

Think you know your pace? ‘Call Your Shot’ at Decker Challenge

The Decker Challenge features a few notorious hills. Photo courtesy Austin Runners Club
The Decker Challenge features a few notorious hills. Photo courtesy Austin Runners Club

Think you know your running pace?
How about on a hilly course, at a race that always seems to coincide with cold, wet weather?

This year’s Decker Challenge, set for Dec. 6, will include a Call Your Shots challenge, in which runners predict their finish time at the race. The athletes who come closest win a pair of New Balance shoes.

“It comes from an old running coach of mine,” says Iram Leon, president of the Austin Runners Club, which is putting on the event. “Realistically speaking, at any given race, your odds of winning are pretty low. The coach was big about goal setting. His phrase was, ‘If you aim for nothing, you hit it every time.'”

To fire his runners up and get them focused, the coach made them predict their times. Whoever missed it by the most had to buy lunch for whomever came closest.

“It’s the same kind of thing here,” Leon says.

This year's race will feature a Call Your Shots challenge, in which runners predict their finish time. Photo courtesy Austin Runners Club
This year’s race will feature a Call Your Shots challenge, in which runners predict their finish time. Photo courtesy Austin Runners Club

Runners who register for the challenge, which is free with race entry, predict their time down to the second. The two closest males and females win spiffy new shoes. In case of a tie, the win will go to the runner with the most even pace throughout the run.

On a course like Decker, that’ll be tough to do. Clocks will provide split times at the 5K, 10K and 10-mile marks. Watches help too, of course.

Decker is the third race of the Distance Challenge, which culminates in February with the Austin Marathon & Half Marathon. It’s also known for having a course that’s tougher than the marathon. This year’s race will include free race photos. And did we mention the free beer at the end?

“You’ve got to sign up for the hard stuff sometimes,” Leon says. “If you only sign up for easy stuff, are you really getting your money’s worth?”

About 1,000 runners are expected for the event, which starts at 8 a.m. at the Travis County Expo Center, 7311 Decker Lane. A 5K run to benefit Brown Santa will start at 8:15 a.m. Entry fee for the half marathon is $89 ($79 for members of Austin Runners Club) here.

Runners strike out on a hilly course during typically cold and wet weather at the 2009 Decker Challenge. Photo by Jake North
Runners strike out on a hilly course during typically cold and wet weather at the 2009 Decker Challenge. Photo by Jake North

Turkeys, prepare to trot!

ThunderCloud Subs celebrates the 25th anniversary of its annual Turkey Trot this year. Photo courtesy ThunderCloud Subs
ThunderCloud Subs celebrates the 25th anniversary of its annual Turkey Trot this year. Photo courtesy ThunderCloud Subs

Gobblers, get ready!

I always kick off Thanksgiving with a ramble through downtown Austin alongside 20,000 of my fellow turkeys at the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot.

The 5-mile run keeps Thanksgiving from turning into an all-day sloth-fest, and I love to see people costumed as turkeys, pilgrims, Native Americans and more. Plus, there’s less guilt later in the day, when I tuck away an extra slice of pecan pie.

ThunderCloud Subs hopes to register 25,000 runners for this year's Turkey Trot. Photo courtesy ThunderCloud Subs
ThunderCloud Subs hopes to register 25,000 runners for this year’s Turkey Trot. Photo courtesy ThunderCloud Subs

This year the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot celebrates its 25th anniversary. (The restaurant also celebrated its 40th birthday in 2015. Did you snag one of those 1975-priced sandwiches earlier this year?) The Trot started with 600 runners in 1991. Today it ranks as the second largest Thanksgiving Day run in Texas. Organizers hope to register 25,000 people in honor of this year’s anniversary.

The event includes a 5-mile run, 1-mile walk and a Kids K. All begin and end at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

The 5-mile race might make you feel better about the pumpkin pie you'll eat later in the day. Photo courtesy ThunderCloud Subs
The 5-mile race might make you feel better about the pumpkin pie you’ll eat later in the day. Photo courtesy ThunderCloud Subs

Awards will go to overall and age group winners, plus top finishers in maternity, baby jogger, wheelchair, Longhorn, Red Raider and Team Challenge categories.

Anyone can buy a raffle ticket for a chance to win a Honda Accord or merchandise from Mellow Johnny’s. Tickets are $25 or five for $100, and are available online at http://www.thundercloud.com or at packet pickup.

The Kids K begins at 8:45 a.m., the timed 5-mile run at 9:30 a.m., followed immediately by the untimed 5-mile run and the 1-mile walk. The awards ceremony starts at 10:40 a.m.

Online registration for the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot is $25 for the untimed 5-mile, $30 for the timed 5-mile, $20 for the 1-mile walk, and $8 for the Stepping Stone School Kids’ K. Proceeds benefit Caritas of Austin, which helps people move out of poverty toward self-sufficiency.

To register go here.

Some runners don costumes for the annual Turkey Trot. Photo courtesy ThunderCloud Subs
Some runners don costumes for the annual Turkey Trot. Photo courtesy ThunderCloud Subs