Ray Houlihan of Turlock is not just any other 85-year-old; he is a two-time gold medal cyclist winner in the 5K and 10K races for the 85-90 age group.
After finishing at the top of the 2016 Bay Area Senior Games in Fort Ord, Houlihan, with his witty and outgoing personality, was able to attack something other than his type 2 diabetes and neuropathy —an opportunity and drive to prove to others that anything is possible even under tough circumstances.
“I call it the electric eel,” said Houlihan of the ache in his heel that burns through his whole body. “It's on and off but let me tell you that when I am on the bike that is when the pain goes away, then when I stop, it’s a different manner.”
After last weekend’s races at the 10th annual Bay Area Senior Games, Houlihan was feeling exhausted but also very proud and excited to share what he had accomplished.
“There is no question I was very tired and at one point was wondering what I was doing, but I mean look at me, I am not that young guy anymore,” said Houlihan with a brief laugh.
Houlihan, who was a teacher at Turlock High for over 15 years, and a teacher for 32 years altogether, has found cycling as the most comfortable hobby which has also helped him face one of his toughest challenges.
“It's hard to get the pain out completely. I’m happy the Lord has gotten me to this point and I want to encourage people by self-promoting,” said Houlihan. “I just thought this could help encourage others with diabetes to go out and do something and to know that they can do it.”
Houlihan has done more than that.
A local who enjoys going out on Friday nights to Joe Debely Stadium to take pictures of the local football teams, Houlihan has continued to do all the things he loves but owes much of his spryness to cycling, which has kept him physically active.
“I been called the Renaissance man,” Houlihan said with a laugh. “I have biked through Big Sur, Santa Monica back in 1988, and have ridden over Pacheco Pass to Watsonville four times. I really enjoy cycling.”
Last time Houlihan rode to Watsonville was 2011. He has been cycling for more than 40 years.
Houlihan also did what he calls his “15th century ride” back on his birthday in December of 2011.
However, it wasn't until he was riding through the Parker Flats Cut Off road near Cal State Monterey Bay and Fort Ord last weekend, that Houlihan began to have flashbacks and reminisce on the days back in the mid 1950s, when he was at Fort Ord, training for the Korean War.
“There is a kicker because now in 2016, I found myself riding through the same roads but not running with a sergeant behind me and I wanted to do some singing while I was doing that too,” said Houlihan on running through the same roads some 60-plus years later.
Although Houlihan is one tough and prideful individual, his heart and determination seem to have been great tools for him to continue his battle against diabetes and he does it with a smile and a positive mindset.
“There was some stress with the race but that is the biggest thrill for me to be riding, besides marriage and having my four kids and eight grandchildren and one great grandchild,” said Houlihan.
After completing the 10K race on Saturday, Houlihan, determined and willing, pushed forth and completed his 5K race and got a standing ovation from the fellow cyclists on both days.
“When I was coming in, there were about 30 riders or so who were clapping because I had done it,” said Houlihan of completing back-to-back races in less than 48 hours.
“Did I mention that I was the only one registered at the 85-90 cycling age group?” Houlihan said with a huge laugh and smile.
“I guess nobody was able to do it or willing but I just knew that I was going to do it. I was very fortunate enough to finish that part of my cycling,” he said.
The next cycling goal for Houlihan is to complete the 100 mile ride which he calls the “Geezer-Cogger-Century,” in one day on his birthday.