Octogenarian Demos How to Live Life to the Fullest
By Lynn DeBruin
March 28, 2010 (Colorado Springs, CO) — The red sandstone monuments tower over Lyle Langlois as he glides through yet another training ride in Garden of the Gods national park. But nothing seems more impressive than the soon-to-be-octogenarian’s list of accomplishments.
The former computer science professor has run a marathon in all 50 states, bicycled across the country four times, and on March 14 attained yet another goal—completing 100 races between ages 70 and 80, including more than a dozen triathlons.
If ever there was a man who makes 80 look like the new 50, it’s Langlois.
He’s run around the Sea of Galilee at 600 feet below sea level and ascended 14,110-foot Pikes Peak in Colorado—seven times.
Most recently, he and third wife Kay Martin backpacked together up Machu Pichu, hiked halfway up the Matterhorn and covered the last 300 miles of the Pacific Coast trail—completing what has been a 22-year, 3,000-mile quest for Langlois.
“It’s like the chicken and the egg. Do we do it because we’re healthy or are we healthy because we do it? I don’t know which, but it works,” said Langlois, who estimates he’s run 38,000 miles in his lifetime and biked another 25,000.
There’s no telling where the Kansas-born Langlois, who mostly rode the bench as a kid, gets his energy. Or what he’ll do next with what he calls a “positive addiction.”
“You never know what I might suggest, but so far Kay has accepted everything,” he said.
That the two are together is just as remarkable.
Kay Martin is a former Catholic nun who burned out on teaching long ago, married, then as a widow found the courage to take up running and triathlons at age 58.
“It wasn’t much fun the first couple of times,” Martin, now a great-grandmother, said of running. “I’d run for a minute; then walk for a minute. And did that for a two-mile lap.”
A couple of days later she ran for two minutes then walked for one, and continued this trend until she was running for 12 minutes at a time.
“I thought, ‘Hey, this isn’t bad. It was fun,'” she said.
After her first 5k, the passion was instilled.
Langlois wouldn’t enter the picture until a few years later while she was cross training via what triathletes call “the brick”—biking then running in the same workout—at South Mountain Park in Phoenix.
“There’s not too many gray-haired women doing brick workouts,” he said.
But Martin, who had met her first husband at a singles club that featured backpacking and canoeing, enjoyed the combination.
When Langlois took a chance and left his number on her windshield, a romance was born.
“It had been 14 years since my first husband’s death and I’d tell all my friends, ‘I can’t find anybody my age who can keep up with me,'” said Martin, who once taught and led canoe trips for the American Red Cross and Sierra Club.
It’s why she backpacked up and down the Grand Canyon by herself, and drove to Alaska and Florida with her cat.
“He starts telling me he’s done a marathon in every state, and an Ironman, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is a guy who can keep up with me,'” said Martin, who turned 73 on December 9.
He’s usually drafting behind her while biking and finishes behind her in triathlons.
But give him a break, he says. “She’s so much younger than me,” he cracks.
If there’s anything bigger than his lists—from riding the subways of the world to plans to shoot the rapids on six Western rivers—it’s Langlois’ personality.
“If I ever write my memoirs, the opening line will be, ‘I took three wives to Africa’—in different decades of course,” he says.
With each trip, there’s always a story.
Consider the Biblical tour he and Martin took through Jordan and Egypt. Before riding up Mount Sinai on a camel, Langlois grew a beard.
“I thought if there’s new commandments to be handed out, I wanted to look like Moses. But nothing happened,” he quipped.
The trip to Cairo was a bit more eventful.
Langlois was intent on riding the subway, even though it wasn’t part of the itinerary and was deemed too dangerous by the guide. Langlois was undeterred, yet quickly found himself in a bit of a jam.
The train was already packed because of a Muslim holiday and when the white-haired, 78-year-old boarded with his wife, he quickly was pinned to the door as it closed down around his daypack.
Though passengers worked to free him, he imagined them wondering what this stupid American would do next. It didn’t take long to find out. As he spun around trying to regain his balance, the only thing he found to grab onto was a woman’ back.
“I pulled (her veil) halfway off and I thought, ‘Oh, here comes death,’ ” Langlois recalled.
Then he uttered the one Arabic phrase he knew—”Insha’allah” or “God wills it”—and his fellow passengers laughed off the indiscretion.
“Then we straightened up her veil so we could still see both her eyes and we both lived happily ever after,” Langlois recalled.
That was several years ago and the couple is still going strong. But just how did this all start?
It seems Langlois, who was about to turn 50, read an article in a nursing journal that theorized if one could run a marathon in less than four hours, he would be immune from heart problems for the next seven years.
“Later I learned the theory wasn’t full-proof, and some people died,” he said. But the goal was set.
He started slowly, running a mile each day in January of the year he was to turn 50, then two miles a day in February, three in March, four in April and five in May.
He’d run his first marathon later that year in Honolulu but came up short of the four-hour goal. On his third try, he did one in three hours, 56 minutes.
Similarly, it took three lottery attempts just to get entered in the Hawaii Ironman. Though it took him almost 15 hours to cover the 2.6-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26-mile run, and he finished in the dark, he finished nonetheless.
To this day, that and qualifying and competing in the Boston Marathon remain two of his biggest accomplishments—along with being married for 42 years and setting up small trusts for each of his 13 grandchildren.
“We’re really blessed to be able to do this,” said Langlois, who has visited 64 countries in his lifetime.
Martin feels doubly blessed, considering very few women over 65 ever re-marry. That leads to another story.
She had always wanted to visit New Zealand, and shortly after they met, asked Langlois to join her. But as they embarked on the Milford Trek and talked about a few other adventures, Martin questioned how she could do all that and still pay her bills.
Langlois suggested a few options, and then said, “Or we could get married.” It wasn’t the most romantic proposal, he admits.
But the next day, in Queenstown, New Zealand—deemed by some the adrenalin capital of the world—they were married fittingly in a 105-year-old stone church, perched on a hill, wearing their hiking clothes.
His children found out via email. The first read “Hiking Companion-Compatible.” The second was just as short and sweet. “Married Hiking Companion.” Thus, their adventures continued together.
They rode the train across Siberia from Vladivostock, Russia, on the Pacific seaboard to St. Petersburg, did a bike-and-barge tour in Amsterdam, and celebrated Langlois’ 75th birthday by hiking the Grand Canyon with his children.
His 80th—which is May 14 but will be celebrated in June—is already planned. He’s rented out a bed & breakfast at 10,200 feet, halfway up the summit of Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs. There’s only three ways to get there: hike 6 miles up, take the Cog Railway to the top then hike down or hike all the way up then halfway down.
Langlois will go with Plan A. He already has done the ascent seven times, while failing twice either because of weather or leg cramps.
It was on Pikes Peak that Langlois also suffered the only big health scare of his life. It was August 2000 and he was at about 13,000 feet when he went into atrial fibrillation, with his heart rate jumping from 90 beats a minute to 212. He ended up being airlifted off the mountain but was out of the hospital that night, and within months set out to successfully bike across the country.
Another cross-country biking trip, however, would turn tragic when he and his second wife, an energetic woman named Patricia Sparks, were on a bicycle tour across Vietnam in 2002. The two had met bicycling with a group in Phoenix and Langlois proposed atop one of the Valley’s peaks they frequently hiked.
They wed December 13, 1997 and had just celebrated a 50-month anniversary. As she rode in Vietnam, a motor scooter struck her from behind. Though wearing a helmet, she died of a skull fracture.
The popular woman with the vivacious spirit would have three funerals—in Singapore, Phoenix and her native Indiana. Though Langlois had lost a soul mate, he took solace in the fact she had lived life to the fullest.
It’s what Langlois and Martin do now, whether at their small cabin in Manitou Springs, their home in Phoenix or while training for yet another adventure in Garden of the Gods. Yes, the man who starting making bucket lists long before they became en vogue may be turning 80, but that likely will only bring a new set of goals.
Consider the map in his Colorado home, with places visited the first 25 years of life color-coded green, the second 25 years marked in yellow and those he’s visited since turning 75 color-coded blue.
Part of it’s good genes, Langlois assumes, and clean living (he’s never smoked or done drugs, drinks alcohol in moderation and tries to concentrate on veggies, whole grains and not too much red meat). But attitude and exercise no doubt are keys as well.
Just listen to him chuckle as he thinks back on the icon one presses to get the senior fare on Hong Kong’s subway system. It’s a rocking chair.
“Now that I’m approaching 80, my kids are asking me, ‘How long are you going to continue to do this?'” he said.
He doesn’t really have an answer.
“I enjoy it, and I enjoy interacting with people,” he said. Plus, they’re supportive.
“They all say I want to be like you when I’m 75,” he said. They better get going.