Who you callin’ old?

Ralph Draves
Don’t trust anyone under 60: 82-year-old Ralph Draves with his bicycle. Photos by Kent Priestley.

Jim Martin stands at the top of the cement rise, pushes off with one foot, and he’s rolling. Knees bent, he glides down a smooth six-foot ramp, banks a turn and goes for another. He reaches the bottom, wobbles a bit, and begins a running dismount. He catches his loose board and climbs out of the “bowl.”

A fellow skateboarder at the Food Lion Skate Park in Asheville, easily four decades his junior, murmurs “smooth,” and the comment seems free of irony.

“I’ve learned to bail,” Martin explains a minute later. “I tell the kids, ‘You fall and I fall — guess who hurts more?’ Sure, I’ve got vertebrae, but I don’t have as much of the padding in between as they do.”

Jim Martin
Jim Martin, 65,in the bowl.

Jim Martin is 65. He is, to his knowledge, Western North Carolina’s oldest skateboarder. He has skated for a little over 20 years — he started when he was 43, and is still learning (“upscaling,” he calls it). He can “ollie” (“I got it off a Tony Hawk video”), he can “rock ‘n’ roll,” he can “Casper,” he can “kick-turn,” he can “bird slide,” and he can do the “old-school flip,” a trick whose name seems especially apropos. He also does a trick he seems to have invented himself, a sort of mobile statuary thing where he glides by on his skateboard, leaning forward like a sprinter frozen in mid-stride.

“It’s an old surfing trick that I’ve adapted,” Martin explains. His fellow skaters don’t seem to know what to make of it, and maybe it doesn’t matter.

Martin is irrepressible. Let him talk, and he’ll go on for hours about skateboarding, about life, about what he hopes to achieve by his example.

“Skaters have gotten a bad rap,” he says. “That’s changing, and I want to be part of that process. I want to be an inspiration to the kids. Skateboarding is great. I mean, I can come out here at the end of the day all stressed out and tired, roll around for an hour or two and I feel like a million bucks.”

Getting better all the time

In bad old days when life trended nasty, brutish and short, the “golden years” were not so golden. You hobbled around until you wore holes through your molars, they abscessed, and you died. If you were lucky enough to pass into sexagenarian, septuagenarian or octogenarian status, people looked to you for wisdom but little else. They certainly didn’t ask you to join them on the hunt.

Of course, times have changed. Advances in medicine, better nutrition and 20th-century population dynamics mean that the nation has never been so gray. In the United States, the over-50 age group is the fastest growing demographic unit.

And while old age has never, and perhaps never will be, “for sissies,” as Art Linkletter famously opined, many are approaching it with heroic shows of vim.

Seniors involved in “extreme” or especially grueling outdoor sports are still fairly rare, but Wendy Marsh, director of the Council on Aging of Buncombe County, says that fact may be changing.

“It’s a widely cited thing that the Baby Boomers are hitting that 60s mark. They have, to some degree, been active right along, and they’re not going to slow down now. It’s not going to be shuffleboard anymore.”

Marsh says that health studies have confirmed time and again the value of exercise in heading off or delaying many age-related diseases. Early-onset dementia, especially in women, is one disorder that seems to be prevented by regular exercise. The word, apparently, is getting out.

“Every year we have our Successful Aging conference, and the seminars that are most popular, the ones that fill up, are things like Tai Chi, yoga and dancing — the really fun, active things.”

Iron man

Two weeks ago, Fletcher resident Lloyd Basten competed in the Bartram Trail run, a 21-mile race over a particularly grueling stretch of mountains, over rocks and through laurel thickets and creeks with 40-degree water. In a picture taken during the race, blood oozes from a cut down Basten’s left arm. He seems unperturbed by the injury.

“Old people fall down a lot,” Basten explains, laughing. “Oh, I’ve cut my whole knee open to the bone; I took 11 stitches in my thumb pad once. I don’t know — maybe I’m just clumsy.”

Basten, who is 68, has been trail running for 20 years. He has competed in a blurring number of 5Ks, 10Ks and half-marathons. He’s done the Black Mountain 40-miler four times, the Shut-In trail run 15 times, and an event in South Carolina with the somewhat less than comforting name “Runner From Hell.” Once, Basten powered through a three-day ultra marathon at Lake Tahoe: three days, 78 miles, no problem.

“I have a lot of energy,” he offers modestly.

When he began running, his goal was to complete the circumference of the earth, which, in case you’ve forgotten, is 24,901.55 miles.

“As it’s turned out, I’m on my fourth trip around,” he says.

What he calls his “own form of insanity” seems to go just fine with his family.

“I’ve had the same wife and same kids for 46 years, so I guess it’s working out,” he says. His philosophy? “I get up in the morning, look in the newspaper, and if my name’s not in it, I go running.

“Honestly, I don’t think anything I do is all that unusual or great. I’ve been doing it all my life. I guess I just can’t quit. In the races I enter, I’m usually the oldest — but I’m never the last one across the finish line. When I am, I’ll probably hang it up.”

Back in the saddle

This summer, Asheville resident Ralph Draves will do two weeks of sightseeing in Spain. Only Draves will do it by bike, a little less typical approach for an octogenarian. He turned 82 last month.

At 6-foot-5, Draves is an imposing figure in Spandex. He has a puckish grin, bright blue eyes, and a white goatee. He wears a “Live Strong” bracelet and a digital watch with a built-in altimeter for those high places he’s always heading.

Draves began cycling in the 1950s at his sister’s prompting, and started leading cycling tours not long after. The bikes were three-speed Schwinns; lifting them was an invitation to hernia. A half-century later, Draves’ equipage is somewhat more sophisticated — and lighter, too. He rides a custom-built bike with a titanium frame. Letters spelling “Ralph B. Draves” are painted across the top tube.

“When I first moved to Asheville in 1991, I rode with a group they called the ‘Old Farts,'” he says. “It turned out that they were really too fast for me. It also turned out that they were mostly in their 30s.” Draves was pressing 70 at the time.

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One thought on “Who you callin’ old?

  1. steve manliness

    dude ur old and ur skateboarding omfg? sweet dude ur like 120 thats awesome sorry about saying ur 120 ur only like 88

    i want to see you pull a sick corkscrew 1080 on the rail, and crank a soulja boy

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