Is it possible for a 75-year-old to compete in an off-road motorcycle race in the Mexican desert for five days, ride 850 miles and beat a lot of younger guys?
Donald Lewis is living proof that somebody can do this. But not just anybody.
“Yes, riding five days in a row is a grind,” Lewis says as we sit in his expansive Manchester house, replete with a gym and massage room. “I had no injuries during the race, no crashes. I felt strong every day. At my age, it’s crazy.”
His success last April in the Mexican 1000 race in Baja wasn’t a rare event in his life. Since 2006, Lewis has won his class (age 60 and over) five times since he began competing in Baja racing with SCORE International Off-Road Racing and the National Off Road Racing Association. He has raced on the Mexican peninsula 26 times, ever since the day he “decided to do something interesting.”
Lewis doesn’t enter races in which a rider simply does laps around a track. “I do point-to-point. That’s very intense. You’re going as fast as you can, hour after hour, day after day, paying attention to every little bump in the road.”
Ah, yes. The bumps. The terrain includes stretches of sand and silt that can be more than knee deep, rocky roads with stones in an “infinite variety,” dozens of water crossings in short spans, and steep uphills and downhills.
He estimates his average speed over the five days was close to 40 mph. But at times, he adds, “I hit easily 85 mph.”
Lewis proudly tells me: “I beat 19 younger riders. I came in 16th out of 35.” Six competitors did not finish the grueling race.
Lewis calls that latest race result “some real ‘walk-the-walk’ evidence that the principles in my book work.” This is a reference to his 514-page tome, The Book of Don: 693 Principles of Personal and Business Success, which he self-published last year.
Many of the principles seem obvious (“save more money,” “find your niche,” “avoid bankruptcy”) but others relate directly to his racing achievements: “age is no limitation,” “your health is your most valuable asset,” “make exercise a priority” and “stretch your hamstrings.”
“I use the principles in my book to be successful in whatever I choose to do,” Lewis says. “The most difficult part of racing is having the prepared body, the prepared bike and the support staff. I apply my principles to have a network of people and pay attention to all the details — whatever you need to get to the finish line.”
Asked how he prepares for the races, Lewis says: “I go out to California to train for several weeks beforehand. Those who practice the most are the best. But I’m an older guy; I have to work three times as hard as the younger guys.”
Sometimes Lewis does get hurt. He has broken a rib, a finger and both shoulders. He also endured carpal tunnel syndrome, “the most painful injury of my life.”
The shoulder and finger injuries occurred during a race in Mexico in 2013 “when my bike failed. I had to stop; I was trashed. I had too many things go wrong. That was one of the few ‘did not finish’ experiences I’ve had.”
Lewis also was part of a dual achievement: climbing to the top of Vinson Massif, the highest point of Antarctica in 2006, with his then-wife, Carolyne Gatesy. They were the oldest combined-age couple to ever do this. (They have since divorced.)
Before he started racing in Mexico, Lewis applied his principles to his business. In 1992 he founded Foley Carrier Services. It had expanded to 100 employees by the time he sold it and retired in 2010.
In his home office, he displays a poster given to him by his employees. It’s filled with what they called “Donaldisms.” These include “give it your best shot, sweetheart,” “good fences make for good neighbors” and “we need to get this dialed in.”
During the tour of his house, where he lives alone except for a cat (“Eight toilets and it’s just me!”), Lewis shows me the living room, with a large TV and two stationary bicycles. One of his principles, number 138, is “exercise while watching TV.”
Pointing to one of the bikes, he says: “This one here has 48,000 miles on it. That’s a lot of miles! I’m a ‘use it or lose it’ kind of guy.”
How does he know how many miles he has pedaled on that bike? He keeps a record of virtually everything he does. We go back to his office and on his computer Lewis shows me all the facts and figures. “I have a spreadsheet which I’ve maintained daily since Dec. 26, 1997. I believe in logging data, daily. Logging information is one of my principles. I’m a little obsessive compulsive about it.”
He scrolls through graphs of his weight, his physical activities, his blood chemistry, cholesterol level and blood pressure. “I graph the number of steps I take. My goal is 10,000 steps a day. You can see from this graph I am hitting that good.”
Next he shows me his weight graph. “As of this morning I weighed 172.4 pounds.”
“I pay attention to my health,” he says, just in case I’m not getting it. “I log it, I graph it. I work very, very hard to maintain it. I walk more than an hour every day.”
Lewis has self-diagnosed himself as having “Stimulation Deficit Disorder.” He explains: “I just need more stimulation than most people do.”
Will he get the stimulation of training for and competing in another motorcycle race? Maybe not. When I ask if he will do the Baja race next spring, he says, “If you can figure out how to fund me. It costs about $20,000 to do a race because of the motorcycle, the logistics, support people and entry fees.”
But even if he never races again, “I proved to older people they can accomplish more than they thought they could. I like being an inspiration to others.”