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Phenomenal Man

by Clare Coppa

Sixty-eight year-old Roger Brockenbrough can climb 36 stories in seven minutes, faster than it takes some people to reach the snack machine.

For a winter workout, this ASTM standards developer scrambles up the stairs of the Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning eight times, riding the elevator down in between. The 36-story ascent takes only six-and-a half to seven-and-a half minutes, he says.

“That makes me want to lie down and rest, just to hear it,” says ASTM member Bob Parsons, a 63 year old long-distance bicycler who enjoys non-competitive touring such as his 2000 mile (3200 km)/36 day tour in 2001. Brockenbrough won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in 2000, a feat Parsons calls, “incredible.” That means Brockenbrough outraced 12 competitors in his 65-69 age group, swimming 2.4 miles (3.85 km), biking 112 miles (180 km) and running 26.2 miles (42.2 km) in 14 hours (14:08:59) outdoors in Hawaii.

An inspiration for anyone seeking fitness later in life, Brockenbrough started training at age 50. He never competed in sports, even in high school, and decided to train in 1984 after watching his son John win triathlons. It took about a year of suffering when he began at 50, Brockenbrough recalls from his home in Pittsburgh, Pa. “I can remember going to the track and running—I’d get these horrible pains in my chest,” he says, chuckling, since running is now his best leg. Sixteen years later, he won the Ironman, the Holy Grail of triathlons.

He started to stand out in 1990, finishing sixth in the National Triathlon and ninth in the World Triathlon, competing in about 25 events per year. By 1999, he literally became one of the fastest men in the world aged 65-69, winning both the World Triathlon (swim-bike-run) and World Duathlon (run-bike-run). “I had to catch seven people on the run to do it,” he says. “I had been doing these world events since 1990 and it was so hard to get a medal. To get two gold medals in one year, that was pretty neat.”

To date, he has competed in 20 World Triathlon/Duathlon Championships winning the title “All American.” Last year during a July swelter, he won gold medals back to back in the National Triathlon Long Course in Indiana on July 13, and the Pittsburgh Triathlon on July 14.

“He needs to see a doctor, maybe a psychiatrist,” jokes 52 year-old Olympian Jan Johnson, saying he couldn’t climb 36 stories in seven minutes like Brockenbrough. Johnson, who won the bronze medal in pole-vaulting in 1972, runs national pole-vaulting camps and develops ASTM pole-vaulting standards. He surfed five hours the day before we spoke and advocates knee-saving, endurance-challenging sports like surfing to stay fit.

In his other life, Brockenbrough is a structural engineer and president of R.L. Brockenbrough and Associates, Pittsburgh. He specializes in the structural behavior and design of steel and
considers A 796 a significant ASTM standard he helped to develop (A 796/A 796M, Standard Practice for Structural Design of Corrugated Steel Pipe, Pipe-Arches, and Arches for Storm and Sanitary Sewers and Other Buried Applications).

At 68 years young, Brockenbrough is getting faster. In the 2001 Ironman he managed to decrease his time (13:43:45), placing third because “the competition was tougher.” He continues to win medals and trains 10-15 hours a week. “I think this kind of stuff keeps you young,” he says. “A typical week might be swimming 5-6,000 yards, running 20-25 miles, and biking 75 miles. Seems like the more you do, the more energy you get.”

Copyright 2003, ASTM

Roger Brockenbrough won the Ironman Triathlon in 2000. He develops ASTM standards on Committees A05 and B07.