Aging: At 106 Octavio Orduño Was Still Biking the Streets of Long Beach

“Smoke?” he replied indignantly. “I don’t smoke.”

by Dave Riley

When I was in my twenties and just back from military service in Germany, I moved to the Monterey peninsula on the California coast and rented an inexpensive place on the corner of First Avenue and Carpenter Street in Carmel. The accommodations were, to put it charitably, rustic. Mr. Harthorn, the owner and a lifelong carpenter, had built the unit over his garage some years earlier as a place for his mother to live. When she passed on, he rented it out.

Mr. Harthorn was no kid. He was eighty-seven, as I recall, which, adjusted for inflation, so to speak, was like being well over one-hundred today. But he was alert and active enough to make a cross-country auto trip that summer, with the help of a niece, to see relatives back in his native Maine. “You never know how long they’ll be there,” he said, leading me to believe they were even older than he.

At that point in my life, I’m pretty sure Mr. Harthorn was the oldest person I had ever met. But he was impressive in his movements and energy and most of all his attitude. It was like, “I’m eighty-seven, but who’s counting?” Not surprisingly, his image came to mind a while back when I discovered recently that Octavio Orduño had passed away. Octavio was a centenarian and a resident of Long Beach in Los Angeles County, when I first wrote about him back in 2011.

Like Mr. Harthorn, he was alert and physically active. In Long Beach, a city of about 430,000 in the southern portion of Los Angeles County. he became an icon among those who value fitness because almost every day of the week, he got his bike out of his garage and cycled anywhere from three to six miles. He lived just a half block from the beach and rode to the park, along the beach — anywhere around the neighborhood.

“He took up golf when he was in his 60s and kept at it, three-four times a week, until he turned 100,” Eric Bradley wrote in the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “That’s when the state took his driver’s license away and he could no longer get to the links.”

In a You Tube interview, Octavio gave varying estimates for how long he had been cycling. At one point he said, “knee high to a grasshopper” but later guessed that sometime around 1920 was a pretty good estimate.   In his later days he rode a three-wheeler, but only because his wife Alicia — twenty years his junior — insisted that he abandon his two-wheeler after falling.

He said he felt like he was forty or fifty, and that he never got sick. An interviewer asked him how he stayed healthy. He said food was the key — a good diet — and complained that some food companies put too much junk in the foods. His regular dinner: beans, brown rice and veggies. How much did he smoke? “Smoke?” he replied indignantly. “I don’t smoke.”

“Several years ago, the city’s bike coordinator, a gregarious, gray-haired Texan named Charles Gandy, took notice,” Esmeralda Bermudez wrote in the L.A. Times. “He befriended Orduño and shared his story online, posting two videos of him coasting down the bike lanes, propped up by his self-installed blue velvet backrest. And that was only the start of Gandy’s plan, if the old man is game. He’d like to have him cut the ribbon at bike-friendly ceremonies and appear in television and radio ads.”octavio-orduno-1

Octavio was a retired aerospace mechanic who had been married to Alicia for nearly sixty years, and was married earlier for another twenty. In all he had six children and numerous grandchildren in states as far away as Missouri. His son Eddie, who is seventy-nine and lives in Fresno, told the Times several years ago, “I don’t know how many days he has left, how many months, how many years, but he’s had a full life.”

Octavio passed away a year ago this month at the age of 106. The cause: complications from a broken hip.

Why do people like him make it past one hundred? He said it was because of diet and exercise, but I think there’s another element. I think they have something in them that says they’re just not ready to quit — not ready to sit idly at a window and look out as others scurry by doing their daily activities.

Remember Jeanne Louise Calment, the lady from Arles about whom I wrote last March and who lived to 122? She took up fencing when she was 80 — 80! — and was still bicycling at 100. Octavio played golf for 40 years and didn’t take it up until he was sixty.

God bless our centenarians. Whatever their secret, it’s too bad we can’t bottle it and pass it around.

Dave Riley

About Dave Riley

Growing Old Isn’t For Sissies is about aging. It’s stories of how some older people achieve remarkable successes, how some people make the lives of others better, and how all seniors have hurdles to face — maladies, loss of loved ones and more.