Two days after completing the U.S. Bank Pole Pedal Paddle race in Bend, Oregon, 87-year-old Lew Hollander took a day off from regular training. After all, he’d just finished a race that included alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biking, running, kayaking and sprinting to the finish. So, what did his day off look like?
“I ran a little bit in the morning, and then I swam, and then I went bowling for two hours and I played ping pong for three hours,” says Hollander, a longtime Zions Bank client who owns property in Idaho.
If his day of rest looks different than yours, it may be because Hollander is a lifelong athlete and 25-time Ironman competitor. In 2012 at the age of 82, he became the oldest man to complete an Ironman Triathlon when he finished the Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Ironman. He still holds the Guinness World Record for that feat, finishing the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run in 16 hours, 45 minutes and 52 seconds.
Hollander completed his first Ironman at age 55, but before that he ran 40-, 50-, 60- and, yes, 100-mile ultra-races “for fun.” And before that he did long-distance horse racing. A retired physicist who will never really be retired — right now he’s tinkering in nanotechnology — Hollander has a history of athletics in his life (“and a history of science and a history of women and a history of history,” he says). But he’d never done a triathlon before he sent in his first Ironman entry.
“I hadn’t been on a bike since I was a kid,” Hollander says. Still, he knew with his endurance running background and athletic bent, he’d do all right. He finished that first Hawaii Ironman in 15 hours and 47 minutes. Years later, at age 80, his finishing time was only one minute slower.
“I’m 87 now and it’s back to reality,” Hollander says. “I’m getting slower. I just can’t run fast anymore.” Still, he sticks by his mantras of “use it or lose it” and “prepare not repair.” Hollander gets his heart rate up every day, although he’s never adhered to a rigorous training schedule. He believes in going anaerobic every day. “You have to push yourself so that you can’t breathe. That’s my theory for anti-aging, and I’ve been able to steal 87 years so far.”
Use It or Lose It
Every time Hollander enters a race he makes noises about it being his last, but the declarations never really stick. For instance, in June Hollander completed the infamous Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, swimming from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco. A BBC crew filmed him for a three-part series about older athletes.
“If I don’t have a race entry sent in somewhere I’m not going to get out of bed in the morning,” he says.
A few years ago, for the first time ever, Hollander started but didn’t finish an Ironman race. He thought perhaps his racing days were truly over and was pondering the future when a call came from Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain. The prince and triathlon enthusiast invited Hollander to compete in a half-Ironman race in Bahrain’s capital city as his personal guest. Hollander got the royal treatment during his December 2015 trip and returned with boosted spirits.
“I finished the race, and when I got home I wasn’t feeling so bad about triathlons anymore,” he says.
Hollander likes to quote actor John Barrymore. “A man is not old until regrets take the place of his dreams.”
Photos courtesy of Lew Hollander