A couple of years ago Erwin Jaskulski--economist, linguist,
philosopher and classical-music devotee--having kept reasonably
active after retiring as comptroller of Honolulu's Channel 2,
finally gave in to nudging by athletic friends and consented to
run his first race since his early 20s. He entered the 100-meter
dash in his age group at the 1997 Aloha State Games. "And it was
veni, vidi, vici," he says, still jubilant. "I came, I saw, I
And caused a small sensation. Jaskulski's time of 25.73 seconds
seemed to obliterate the world record for his age group. Which
age group, you might ask? Erwin Jaskulski was 94.
But the World Association of Veteran Athletes refused to accept
the record, sneering that the timing system, wind gauges and
officials weren't certified. So Duncan MacDonald, an official of
USA Track and Field Hawaii (also a 1976 Olympian and the breaker
of Steve Prefontaine's 5,000-meter U.S. record), and the Hawaii
Masters Track Club gradually arranged for the training of
officials and the required equipment to enable Jaskulski to try
"Meanwhile, I licked blood," says Jaskulski, using an expression
from his Austrian origins, "meaning I acquired a real taste for
track. I worked to have the sprinter's style and the endurance
to go top speed for the whole 100."
July 11, 1999
So in May, Jaskulski, now 96, bent into the blocks beside
Hawaii's top open sprinters in a preliminary 100-meter heat at
the Punahou Relays. At the gun, his young competitors shot to
the finish in 11 seconds or so, then turned to see his
white-clad, white-haired, 5'7", 130-pound figure, 50 meters
back, coming on. His cadence was mechanical, his face a mask of
dogged determination. He drove across the line, openmouthed, in
24.01 seconds. The wind (1.2 meters per second) and all else
were legal. Jaskulski had just ripped more than 14 seconds from
the 95-99 age-group record of 38.82, set in 1997 by Kazuhiko
Tsutsumi of Japan.
Now, that caused a real sensation. Letterman called. Leno
called. Everyone asked the same thing. "How, how did I do it?"
echoes Jaskulski. "I did it hiking, hiking, hiking! Well,
certain other principles were involved."
Jaskulski is so formidable of mind that even remarking on his
undimmed wit feels vaguely patronizing, like complimenting
Martina Navratilova on her English. Just as impressive is his
jaunty positivism. To reach such vigorous old age, he seems to
prove, one's spirit must be bathed in sweetness and sparkle.
Jaskulski was born on Sept. 24, 1902, in the city of Czernowitz,
Austria-Hungary (now Chervonohrad, Ukraine). Too young to be
swept into the carnage of the Great War, Jaskulski nevertheless
bore its mark. "Austria was blockaded; we had little to eat," he
says. "At 18, I weighed 100 pounds. So I decided something had
to be done."
He began a lifelong regimen of calisthenics, and he still does
sets of eight pull-ups, 30 squats and 50 sit-ups every other day.
He rock climbed, whitewater kayaked, swam, dived, ice-skated and
did judo. He ran track races of up to 800 meters in his 20s, then
embraced the two great loves of his sporting life: skiing and
hiking in the Austrian and Swiss Alps.
"The main reason I'm strong?" he explains. "Thirty-five years in
Austria skiing by climbing six hard hours up for every 20
minutes of bliss gliding down. That trained my heart and lungs
and stamina. The other side of the equation: I avoided all
things not good for me and ate sparingly and slowly."
He was an executive for a Vienna machine company and, after
World War II, an interpreter and economic expert for the
occupation forces. "But the Russians were still in Vienna in
1954," says Jaskulski, "and things didn't look good, so I got a
visa and came to Hawaii. I couldn't ski here, so for 45 years
it's been hiking, hiking, hiking!"
For years Jaskulski jogged four miles around Honolulu's Ala
Moana Park before his calisthenics, and there he struck up a
friendship with Gil Janklowitz of Bodies in Motion, an aerobic
fitness show. It was Janklowitz, a decathlete, who suggested
that Jaskulski enter his first race in 70 years.
"He changed my life at 94," exclaims Jaskulski, who was amused
by the buzz his record caused two years later but was not
interested in appearing on the late-night talk shows. "I told
them I run for my pleasure, health and satisfaction, not for
publicity," he says. "Think of flying all that way only to talk,
not to run!"
Letterman called. Leno called. Everyone asked the same thing.
"How, how did I do it?"