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99-year-old National Guard vet walks more than 53 miles to raise money for charity

Bud Lewis, who turns 100 on Aug. 8, is walking laps every day to raise money for the Sunshine Division. (Samantha Swindler | The Oregonian/TNS)

If it’s 11 a.m., Bud Lewis is on his way around the track at Portland’s Duniway Park.

He’s the one with the walker. With every lap of the track, Lewis is raising funds for the non-profit Sunshine Division, an organization he led for a third of his 31-year career with the Portland Police Bureau.

He turns 100 on Aug. 8.

Originally, his goal was 100 laps and $100,000 by his birthday. Since early May, using a hybrid approach of standing and pushing his walker forward or sitting and pushing backward, he has done up to four laps a day allowing him to meet his first goal June 19.

“My daughter thought one lap a day would be good for me and would get me done by my birthday,” he said. “But once I started, I found I enjoyed it and decided to do more. So I am.”

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An accomplished amateur athlete, Lewis was not happy just sitting on the couch when the COVID-19 restrictions hit. Pre-pandemic, he worked out several times a week at the Multnomah Athletic Club, where he won the decathlon competition six years consecutively at ages 68 through 73.

Friends from the Multnomah Club, where Lewis is considered an icon, have come by to cheer him on his newest endeavor. A friend who contributed $100 a lap walks along and revealed a time in his youth when much needed food and clothing for his family came from the Sunshine Division.

Every day, friends, family, people who know him from the stores where he shops, or the cafes where he dines, join him. Some know him from his time in the military when he served with the Oregon National Guard in the South Pacific during WWII and was active in the reserves until 1975.

People he taught to drive as an instructor in the 1960s and ’70s have joined in, as have those who have seen him on the news or have met him at the track.

Lewis greets everyone with a “Hey, partner how are you doing? Thanks for coming.”

For him, participating in this quest is a positive antidote for a world gone awry. Each lap is part nature hike, part sports event, part community building. “Look at those Red-tailed hawks!” he exclaims, pointing toward the birds soaring overhead. “Aren’t they amazing?” All eyes turn toward the sky to watch the hawks swoop and dive, and then to the towering cedars that he surmises are older than he is. “I’ll bet they were here when Lewis and Clark came over the mountains!” Flowers bursting with color command his attention next. “Beautiful!” And everyone with him agrees.

As he slowly makes his laps, Lewis looks out to the field where much younger athletes, like he once was, run, jump, throw, catch. “You’re a gazelle!” he yells to one of the runners who circles back to say hello after his sprint.

He shouts out to the tattooed muscle men and women doing pull-ups, push-ups and head stands, “Wish I could do that!” They smile and flex their muscles. To the child digging in the sandpit he offers, “Looks like fun!”

One day, he walked with former Portland mayor Bud Clark, who joined in for an updated “Lewis and Clark” expedition around the track. Another day, members of the Portland Police Bureau who stopped by to discuss and compare their days’ activities with those of Lewis during his time at the bureau.

A woman joining in for a lap trades verses with Lewis from the lyric poems of “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” (Lewis knows them all).

He has decided that since he’s not yet met his monetary goal he’ll keep going, at least until his birthday.

And why not? He loves the exercise, the people who’ve joined in, and the opportunity to do something important for an organization that has captured his heart.

“There’s such need right now for the emergency food and clothing the Sunshine Division provides,” he says. “Plus, the connection between police who often deliver the food and clothing to community members is so important. I’m honored to be helping out.”

About the Sunshine Division

Since 1923, Sunshine Division has been an emergency food and clothing relief organization in partnership with the Portland Police Bureau. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Sunshine Division is providing some 1,200 boxes of food each week, a six-fold increase since March 2020. The organization relies on donations of food and funding from individuals and corporations.

As of July 27, when Bud Lewis completed his 219rd lap, contributions to the Bud Lewis Sunshine Division fund “100 Laps to 100 Years” were $71,084. Online donations may be made to: https://sunshinedivision.org/bud or checks directed at the Bud Lewis Fund mailed to: Sunshine Division, 687 N. Thompson St., Portland, OR 97227.

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© 2020 The Oregonian