On the crest of Pacific Heights, a ridge rising 1,000 feet above the flats of Honolulu, stands a pink California-Spanish mansion, its screened lanai offering an unsurpassable sweep of view from Diamond Head on the east to Pearl Harbor's approaches on the west. It is the sort of scene that courts a vision of sunset mai tais and a plump, elderly proprietor, ensconced in a softly cushioned rattan chair, regaling cocktail guests with stories that always begin: "You should have been here when...." But the proprietor is not on the lanai and neither are the guests. The proprietor, a conspicuously wiry gent standing 5'11" and weighing 150 pounds, is, in fact, halfway down the steeply sloping lawn trying to throw an iron ball up the hill. His only audience is a Russian wolfhound named Czar.
What retired Navy Commander Bernard W. Deacon—who, year for year and pound for pound may be the best all-round athlete in the world—is doing is putting the shot. When he is through with that, he may run east down the green plywood ramp that bisects the grounds and hurl a javelin toward one of the six rental units he has built on his three-acre estate. He is unlikely to practice the pole vault at this late hour; the pit is at the west end of his homemade track, and running into the descending sun is like trying to play left field in Oakland. Maybe the long jump or discus, though. The long-jump pit is at the other end, and the discus, like the javelin, sails out in the direction of his unsuspecting tenants.
Is Bud Deacon crazy? The man is 62 years old! Doesn't he realize that the time has come for boozy reveries on past glories, for sedentary concerns or the semi-anesthesia many retired people indulge in as a palliative for boredom? No, he doesn't realize it, and all those front-yard antics are not solely for amusement. Fresh from his victory in the U.S. Track and Field Federation Winter Decathlon championship in Glendale, Calif. in early December, Deacon now is in light but continuous training for all the Masters (and some standard) meets that lie ahead in 1974, 1975 and maybe even 1984. Earlier in the day he has run five miles through Kapiolani Park, and he topped that off with a hurdling workout on his lawn track. All Bud Deacon wants is health, happiness—and a few new world records to add to the 29 he already holds.
To some of his poi-pounding or paté-oriented business associates, Deacon's behavior stamps him as a real nut—not just a filbert but a coconut. In his kitchen, sweating heavy but breathing easy after his workout, Deacon owns up to the charge. Instead of a drink, or even a beer, he is happily gulping a faintly lemony concoction called Gookinaid, invented by a marathon-running chemist called Gookin. The label on the bottle says it is an "electrolyte replacement with glucose," and Deacon explains that it instantly replenishes body fluids and salts. "I've always been kind of a food fanatic," he beams at his wife Diddie, who is having a beer. "Or would you say that was an understatement?" "It's an understatement, all right," says Diddie, passing him a bowl of boiled peanuts, oozy in their shells.
February 3, 1974
Until three years ago Bud Deacon's nuttiness was more or less a family secret. It might still be if in 1966 a San Diego attorney named David Pain had not dreamed up a mile run for men over 40 and if Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper had not published The New Aerobics in 1970. Pain's race inspired him to create The U.S. Masters Track and Field Association, with events in all categories, including the pentathlon, for four age groups: 40-49, 50-59, 60-69 and 70-and-over. Deacon knew about the Masters program, for he was then president of the Hawaii AAU and had been a close student of track and field ever since his college days at Stanford where, on March 10, 1934, he surpassed the world pole-vault record. But he had not seriously considered entering Masters events until The New Aerobics confronted him with a maximum conditioning program for people 50 and over.
Deacon began running in May of 1970. "I wasn't in bad shape then," he says in another flaming understatement, "but I never intended to compete. I just wanted to participate." That goal changed in the late fall when, as Deacon says, grinning at the obvious prevarication, "I happened to notice that I'd just run the 440 in exactly the same time as the guy who won the 60-69 age group the year before." A lot of 40-pluses must have made similar discoveries, for the Masters movement spread from San Diego to every part of the U.S. (A similar program got under way somewhat later in Europe where, lacking the American gift for hyperbole, its sponsors call it Veterans Track and Field.)
Since then veterans' athletics has enlisted an estimated 10,000 competitors (400 of them entered the last national AAU Masters meet). M.T.&F. has helped form dozens of local clubs, gained not only AAU sanction but support from the Track and Field Federation and regularly stages nearly a dozen regional and national meets. Its four official divisions have been expanded to include ages 30-39 at local levels, and in the Los Angeles Senior Olympics last June events were run in five-year groups beginning at 25 and ending at 80.
In 1971 Track & Field News began publishing annual "age records" books that list the best worldwide marks for competitors ranging from age one (that's right, one) through 78, all based on exact birth dates. The trouble with specific dating (as opposed to the Jan. 1 birthday universally imposed on thoroughbred horses) is that today's champion may—quite literally—be tomorrow's has-been and not even know it. On the other hand, at the very dawn of his next anniversary he can start shooting for a whole new galaxy of records (there are reports of 39-year-olds wistfully yearning for their 40th birthday, a condition hardly envisioned by the "men over 40" advertisers of a generation ago).
Not long after Deacon's record-equaling 440 he got together with other overage Honolulu athletes and formed a local Masters chapter. "The idea was health and fun!" Deacon says (both in speaking and writing he italicizes key words). "We weren't thinking about records, except as part of the program. But competition is what makes exercise fun; you don't have to win, but you want to know you did your best." Since then Deacon's best has become the geriatric sensation of the track-and-field world. He holds 11 60-69 age-group records and 18 exact-age world records. He was named the outstanding athlete of the 60-69 age group at the AAU Masters National championships in San Diego last summer, and at the world championships in Cologne in 1972 he won four gold medals.
All this is not enough for Deacon. As the intermediate—and most successful—member of a family line of pole vaulters, he would dearly love to break the 60-69 world record of 12'9½" set in 1971 by Herbert Schmidt of West Germany. "I don't know if I can do it," Deacon says, "but I'm going to try. Terry's going to coach me a little on how to get the spring out of that fiber glass." Terry, 27, is the oldest of Deacon's three children. He coaches vaulting at Punahou, the Andover of Honolulu. Deacon's daughter Mary, 25, is the wife of Terry Henry IV, a one-time All-America soccer player at North Carolina, and his younger son Danny, 22, also at North Carolina, is one of the top vaulters in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Terry never quite equaled his father's bamboo-pole best (14'6"), but Danny has surpassed it with 15'6". "I'm a little scared of that fiber glass," Deacon says. "It might sling me clear over the fence into my neighbor's yard."
Deacon's denigrators—and there are not many—challenge neither his records nor his dedication, but sometimes mutter, "No wonder—his time's his own and he's got the money to go to all those mainland and foreign meets." A few think Deacon must be very rich—"Who else has a private practice ground in his own front yard?"—and some who know him only from his records conclude that he is "deadly, deadly about track and field." The first of these grumps is true, but the others are not—least of all the last. Thanks to a sequence of shrewd land investments, begun on a shoestring in 1941 when he bought a ranch for $100 and crowned in 1967 by the purchase for $127,000 of the rundown old Riley Allen estate (it is now worth close to $750,000), Deacon is comfortably off and the management of his properties—the Pacific Heights rental units, a small hotel in Waikiki and a 60-unit apartment complex in Long Beach, Calif.—does not tie him to a desk.
Even so, the Deacons live frugally. They do much of the upkeep on their own acre, including hauling and spreading a ton of chicken manure every couple of months to keep the estate in exuberant verdure. "I guess you could say I train on chicken manure," Deacon says. "At least, everything that grows around here goes into my diet." A lot grows—litchis, mulberries, avocados, mangos and papayas, almost all one's heart desires. He built his "private practice ground" himself, including the pole-vault pit, an untidy amalgam of old rubber tires and discarded foam mattresses. "I didn't really want him to put that ramp across our lawn," Diddie says, "and I insisted he make it portable so we could take it up when he wasn't training." Diddie is philosophical about her mistake—Bud is always training. She has planted flowers and vegetables by the vaulting pit.
As for deadly, deadly—well, joyful or even ecstatic might better describe Deacon's approach both to athletics and to life. Neil King, a Chicago track nut and longtime friend, has accurately described Deacon as "the All-American Boy to the nth degree, with a bubbling, forceful personality." Astonishingly enough, Deacon is neither a track-and-field nor a fitness bore. His interests range from other sports (he is a director of the Islanders, Hawaii's Pacific Coast League baseball team) to horticulture to business to politics. A lot of things make him bubble, though only a few make him boil. Deacon says forcefully, "I'm not the kind of guy who goes to a party and says piously, 'I don't drink.' I'm not likely to have more than one or two, but I don't care what other people do or think."
The 56 members of the Hawaii Masters Track Club admire and respect their celebrated competitor. "I think the only knock you could put on Bud Deacon would be that he's record crazy," says Bob Gardner, the club president. "But that doesn't mean medal crazy—Bud doesn't want anything he hasn't earned." Deacon pleads guilty to this mild rap, but adds: "My greatest pride is that in the Masters I can compete in all categories—I can run with the sprinters and the distance men, I can hurdle with the hurdlers, jump with the jumpers, vault with the vaulters and throw with the throwers."
What Deacon actually practices is the politics of attraction. "If doing what I do persuades younger people they can stay fit all their lives, great!" he says. "Last summer at the Santa Maria [Calif.] Open Decathlon I ran in the final event, the 1,500 meters, just to participate and maybe improve my own time—I knew I wasn't going to beat those young fellows. But on the last turn I did pass a 17-year-old kid. Know what he said? 'Go to it, sir!' Afterward a little boy came up to me and said, 'My dad takes the car to go to the corner for groceries. How do you old guys do it?' If somebody like that asks, I try to tell 'em. But I'm not going to push myself or my ideas at people. Let everybody do his own thing."
Deacon was born April 28, 1911 in San Diego, the son of a contractor who had learned to vault with a trimmed hickory tree. The father taught Bud the art, and in high school he lettered in the pole vault (bamboo by then), the long jump and the high jump. He entered Stanford in 1930, and in his senior year enshrined himself as one of the school's immortals. After breaking the listed world record with a vault of 14'2¾" in March (the mark was never recognized because records were only recorded every two years at that time, and by then it had been surpassed), Deacon went to Los Angeles as a member of the famed Dink Templeton's six-man squad to battle the armies of USC and LSU for the national collegiate championship. With only the vault remaining, Stanford trailed the giants by six points, and Deacon had one try left with the bar at 14 feet. If he won the event, Stanford would win the meet. After half a dozen or more false starts, Deacon heard Templeton's shrill voice from the stands: "For Christ's sake! Go ahead and jump!" Recalling the moment, Deacon says, "That made me so damn mad I banged down the runway, cleared the bar and we won the meet."
With a B.A. in econ-sociology, Deacon got a job at Consolidated Aircraft and went right on training, this time for the Olympics. In 1928, while in high school, he had finished eighth in the high jump at the Olympic trials, and in 1932 had tied for third in the vault, only to be bumped because another Stanford man already had made the team. For fun and exercise Deacon joined the San Diego Club volleyball team that won the national championship in 1935. But the 1936 Olympics produced another disappointment. His fourth-place finish in the vault trials would have been good enough before 1932, but the number of performers per country had been cut to three. Then in 1940 he finished third in the trials, only to see the Olympics canceled because of the war.
Deacon's Olympic frustrations may provide part of the motivation for his twilight assault on the record books. Many of his present marks will, of course, be surpassed as more and more track men graduate into his age group, but he hopes to keep posting exact-age records right on through to his 70th birthday. Then, of course, a whole new decade will be wide open for him to assault.
In 1941 Deacon married Evangeline (Diddie) Gerwig, and they bought the lodestone ranch before he began his naval career. Although his talents as a supply officer kept him out of the shooting war, he saw service in the southwest Pacific and after the war was stationed, among other places, at Los Alamitos, Calif. where he launched the base volleyball team on a run of seven straight national championships.
Deacon tends to discount both his athletic achievements and his real estate successes. "Anybody who read The New Aerobics at the same time I did could have done what I've done," he says unconvincingly. Actually, what aerobics did was take a good product and make it much, much better. "It had a vast effect on my cardiovascular system," Deacon says. "My resting pulse is down from 75 to about 43-45." As for his land investments—"Trading, trading, trading," he says. "That's the game. You don't have to be smart, you just have to have the guts to go for it."
Having the guts to go for it in track and field is a Deacon characteristic that sometimes sharply violates Dr. Cooper's admonitions against undue stress. All last summer Deacon was engaged in a bravura demonstration of how desire can defeat disablement. Early in June, while running a practice 660, he tore a ligament in his left foot, the long one that connects the ball to the heel. A week before the National AAU Masters meet at San Diego he was still crippled and in pain. "I had to do something," Deacon says, "so I had three acupuncture treatments, and the foot got much better. On the first day of the meet I managed a lousy third in the long jump and won the pole vault at 9'1". There was not much competition. Then came the 800 meters, which I've never lost, and just as I started around the turn of the second lap I tore the ligament again! It was killing me, but after several strides it didn't seem any worse so I kept going and broke the 62-year-old record by 7.6 seconds."
The next day, following a miserable night of ice immersion, Deacon was determined to at least try the triple jump. "I decided to blast out of my hop and step and just hope my left foot would hold up for the jump. I figured I wouldn't feel the pain until I was already in flight. Well, I went so far on my hop and step that I landed in the sand pit on my sore foot. Of course, I didn't get much of a jump out of there, but it was so soft I didn't feel anything—and the jump won!
"Going up for the triple jump I'd noticed the foot didn't hurt near as much running as walking, so I entered the 39-inch high hurdles [110 meters]. I usually take four steps and take off on alternate feet, but I figured I'd better run five and take off on the right every time. That night in the middle of the race I forgot and went off on the left! It killed me, but I got going again and won in 22.3." Instead of sensibly proceeding to the nearest ambulance (or acupuncturist), Deacon turned his sharp blue eyes on the javelin and saw that nobody was doing very well. "I figured if I entered I might get a fifth or sixth," he says, "but all of a sudden it dawned on me—I can win this." He did, and then managed to limp up to accept the outstanding-athlete award in his division.
Two weeks later at Gresham, Ore., with his foot "better but still hurting," Deacon set exact-age world records in the 600-gram (or women's) javelin, 880, 330-yard intermediate hurdles and 33-inch hurdles. "I ended up with seven firsts, seven meet records, four world records, one American record—and a helluva sore foot" Deacon says. He neglects to mention that he again received the outstanding-athlete award. In late August he won the Masters Decathlon in Honolulu with 3,499 points for an exact-age world record, though his foot was still so painful "I hardly got through the second day."
His foot finally healed, and in early November Deacon began training for the Glendale meet. Although he was distracted by legal matters concerning his investment properties and was rained out a good deal. Deacon departed for California brimming with his customary confidence. It was almost misplaced. With only three decathlon events left, he was astonished to find he was trailing by 19 points. He was sure of the pole vault and won it at 10'2"—no record but adequate. The javelin was another matter. He was unable to exceed 85 feet in his practice throws. "Then I guess the old adrenaline came to my rescue," Deacon says. "Anyhow, I got my first official throw out to 101'7", and that took it." He ran the 1,500 in 5:12, to boost his total points to an age-group world record of 3,884. It was his third straight USTFF Winter Decathlon win, and each year he has improved his totals—he managed 3,793 at age 60 and 3,835 at 61. Both of these figures still stand as exact-age records.
What more can Deacon hope to achieve? Not much, in Diddie's eyes. "About a month after he first started running, a big hulking street kid snatched my purse while we were walking in downtown Honolulu," she says. "Bud just took off after him, right through the traffic, and he caught him in about 300 yards and got my purse back. That meant more to me than all Bud's records. I like a result, and that was one. I like to get a flower when I plant a seed." But Bud sees plenty of worlds left to conquer. The pole vault, for one. And, of course, on April 28 he will be able to start all over again on the 63s.
THE DEACON RECORDS
(Ages 60-69. His age in parentheses)
800 m.-880 yd.: 2:23.8 (60, 61)
110 m. 30" hurdles: 18.5 (61)
110 m. 33" hurdles: 19.7 (62)
110 m. 39" hurdles: 22.3 (62)
110 m. 42" hurdles: 23.0 (62)
330 yd. 30" hurdles: 51.8 (62)
Pentathlon: 1,403 points (61)
Decathlon (Masters): 3,884 (62)
Decathlon (Standard): 2,806 (62)
Masters Six: 1,419 (60)
All of the above are also exact-age records.
400 m. dash: 62.4 (62)
440 yd. dash: 62.8 (62)
440 yd. dash: 62.5 (61)
800 m.-880 yd.: 2:26.5 (62)
1,500 m.: 5:04.4 (60)
Mile: 5:41.0 (62)
3,000 m.: 11:55.0 (60)
3,000 m.: 11:33.0 (61)
3,000 m.: 11:39.4 (62)
Two-mile: 12:15.0 (61)
Two-mile: 12:23.0 (62)
Three-mile: 19:47.2 (60)
110 m. 30" hurdles: 18.8 (62)
110 m. 30" hurdles: 19.3 (60)
Decathlon (Masters): 3,793 (60)
Decathlon (Masters): 3,835 (61)
Pentathlon: 1,398 (62)
THE DEACON DIET
Most dieters struggle against their chains. Not Commander Bernard W. Deacon, who for some 25 years has happily adhered to a six-day regimen that would give the eggs Benedict set apoplexy but not heartburn. (On the seventh day he fasts.) When Deacon dines out, he attempts to stick to rare roast beef, fish and salads. The diet:
ON RISING: A glass of hot water in which is dissolved a tablespoon each of honey, Karo syrup and vinegar, plus the juice of one lemon.
BREAKFAST: First, what Deacon calls "a kind of drinkable slush," blending three tablespoons of brewers' yeast, two tablespoons of AR factor RHB* and a tablespoon each of soy flour, sesame meal, sunflower meal, wheat-and-rice bran, rice polish, brown rice, maple syrup, millet and powdered protein. This is followed by one or more whole papayas, a tablespoon of wheat-germ oil and a bowl of Seven Grain whole cereal with raisins and dates added. (Note: no milk, cream, sugar or butter.)
DINNER: A variety of dishes devised by Mrs. Deacon, including such ingredients as thinly sliced beef, Hawaiian onions, watercress, calves' liver, chicken livers, bacon and any kind of fish (served raw on occasion), all but the last stir-fried, Chinese style. Plus a salad of lettuce, chives, parsley, mint, avocado and onion slices (all home-grown except the onions), mixed with two tablespoons of safflower oil and a little lemon juice or a dollop of Mrs. Deacon's homemade polyunsaturated mayonnaise. For dessert Deacon has another papaya and/or seasonal fruits.
SNACKS & DRINKS: Between meals, only fruits and nuts, including—without fail—an apple at bedtime. Skimmed milk occasionally, no coffee or tea, and alcohol limited to a maximum of two drinks of beer, liquor or wine. Oh, yes—after workouts, Gookinaid.
*A compound contrived by Russ Hodge, former decathlon record holder, containing time-released minerals, vitamins and amino acids from natural sources and enzymes.