A few days each week I take my golden retriever Augustina with me to RB Donuts. I leave her in the car while I go in and get my breakfast. I usually buy a large coffee black, and a glazed twist donut.  I go back to the car and pull around the back of the center and park near the US Post Office where there is a large open grassy area. This is Augustina’s favorite place to do her morning business. There is rich, well watered, green grass, a great tree, and several dense bushes.

Augustina is 12 years old and I drive a Ford Escape. She uses a portable step that we bought at Petco to get up and down from the back seat.  She loves going down but is always analyzing her climb up the two steps on the way into the car.  I think she is worried about missing a step and doing a tumble, which has happened a time or two. If you have an older dog I highly recommend the Petco doggie step.

So anyway about a week ago I was leaning against my car sipping my coffee and watching Augustina do a thorough sniff of the area, seeking the absolute perfect spot to do the drop.  As I glanced down the road which runs behind all the stores I saw this very old looking man coming our way with a walker.  He was taking what I could see were less than full steps, almost baby steps. Half step…lean….roll….half step…lean…roll…you get the idea. He was not getting to us soon and I knew Augustina would be well finished before he got up to the grassy area. Not that I was worried about Augustina, she loves everyone, especially the old, infirmed, deformed, ugly,….she never sees it. She loves people who pass her nose evaluation.  She can sense a good person, a not so good person, and really bad person. I have seen her bark her tail off, most aggressively, at someone who on the surface seems harmless, and conversely  watched her wag and lick people you or I might not want to shake hands with…. but she knows….she knows…. and I trust her too.

So this particular day Augustina is taking her sweet time. It was a beautiful early morning and I forgot about the old guy in the walker. I was looking up at the birds, daydreaming maybe thinking about flying or sailing …just enjoying the morning.  Well, she finally does her business and I do my duty too by picking it up in the doggy bag.  As I turn around to call Augustina to the car I look up and the old guy in the walker is pausing right at our bumper. He was looking at the dog and gave me a warm smile.

I walked over and noticed he was about six feet, maybe six feet one. He stood tall and straight and was taking some slow breaths. Not knowing what to say I gave him my usual comment on what a great invention the walker is. I do think we overlook some of the greatest inventions. I used a walker for a time when my back was completely out. It allowed me to move about the house and the back yard in a way that was almost effortless. It also had a fold down seat, and hand brakes in case you got into an out of control driveway crash situation….sure glad that never happened.

Anyway I finished my walker story and we shook hands and introduced each other.  His handshake was firm and strong. I knew right then he had been an athlete so I said  ” I know you are an athlete but I am wondering what is your sport?” .  He beamed and smiled broadly, and then began to tell me his story.

He had grown up in Queens New York where he met and married his wife. He joined the fire department in New York City.  He said a few years before he retired he and his wife traveled on vacation to San Diego.  After the first day they knew this was the finest place on earth to live and they vowed they would move here when he finally retired. He rose to rank of Battalion Commander in the Fire Department but said as soon as he was eligible to retire he did so.  They kept their vow and moved to Poway, where they lived until his wife passed a few years ago.

Allan told me his sport was cycling. He said he would do sixty plus miles a day about five days a week, as well as longer rides and competitions.  He entered and competed in many long distance races and won awards for his age group many times.  He told me he would still be riding today but when he was 88 years old he had a serious crash and suffered a concussion which left him with permanent vertigo….hence the need for the walker. He went on to explain that when he crashed he had logged 195,000 miles cycling all over the United States and in other countries. He said his goal was to reach 200,000 miles and then retire from cycling. At 88 years old this dedicated and competitive athlete’s career was ended by an awful crash that left him seriously handicapped.

Allan went on to tell me he had been sure he was going to make 200,000 miles prior to the crash. He said it was hard to accept not getting over the concussion but now he does miles with his walker. The retirement home where he lives is at the other end of the shopping center and he walks the back road, behind the stores, every day. He then said he had to get going and told me he logged his miles after every walk….I did not ask how many miles he had in the walker but next time we meet I will do so.

Allen is an example of what it means to be an athlete.  He is the living picture of the saying “once an athlete always an athlete”.  When most people think of an athlete they immediately see…. NFL, MBL, or NBA stars.  These are athletes to be sure but an athlete is also someone who is doing his or her sport and always striving to improve and win.  Athletes compete against others, but most of the time they are competing against themselves. An athlete is driven, competitive, committed, disciplined, and usually in outstanding physical shape.  When I hear the word athlete I think of our military people, our police and fire personnel, and all those gym rats dedicating themselves to their sport and workouts each and every day all across America.

To all you fellow athletes out there I say “keep in the game….it matters”!  And remember Allan if you find yourself unable to do your game….there is always another way…. to get better, to compete, and to win.

Michael Hawke