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.
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."