You can fit a lot of living in 103 years
A week from today, on Mother's Day of all days, friends and family will gather at the Pagoda's International Ballroom to celebrate the life of an old man.
Well, no, that's not right, an oxymoron on its face. Erwin Jaskulski was not always old -- no one is. We find that out at funerals. We know that now, as his life story spills out. But that's when we knew of him. That's how we think of him. That's when he became a famous athlete, a world-record-cracking running man. And, having died March 10 at age 103, Jaskulski had been old for a long, long time.
I never knew Erwin Jaskulski, though I wrote about him several times. Few knew him, really. He was a private, humble man who preferred to duck the spotlight. He liked his exercise and his classical music and his somewhat eccentric way of life. He was 100 and what he was doing worked for him; by that age he knew what he wanted out of life.
David Letterman and Jay Leno wanted to make him famous, when he set world records as a 100-year-old track star. It was the perfect human-interest story, but Jaskulski wanted none of it. He just had no interest in attention like that, didn't need it. He turned them down every time.
Most of us could catch only glimpses of the man. He looked more than a little like "Blue" from "Old School." He had a quiet, wry sense of humor. Friends say they could hear his music blaring in the background when they called him on the phone. He was a tough guy -- he set a record at 100 with stitches in his body and blood stains on his shorts and what some believe might have been a broken rib (he refused X-rays, after a pre-race crash over some starting blocks). He was in the Guinness Book of World Records.
There was more to the man, of course. We find that out at funerals. He was more than just an inspirational human-interest tale. He wasn't always old. When you live to be 103, there is always so much more to tell.
Gilad Janklowicz, of "Bodies in Motion" fame, is one of perhaps a handful close enough to Jaskulski to know the story. It is Janklowicz who pieced it together for the memorial's program. It is Janklowicz who gives us the details of his friend's long life.
Jaskulski was born Sept. 24, 1902, truly a lifetime ago. This was in Czernowicz, Moldavia (officially, he was an Austrian). His parents died when they were young and he younger. He spent three years in an orphanage. Then, WWI broke out.
Young Erwin went to Vienna to attend a cadet school to become an officer in the Austria-Hungary army.
He loved all sports, did everything. "Skiing," Janklowicz tells us, "mountain climbing, swimming, dancing, gymnastics and jiujitsu." He loved knowledge and culture, was a renaissance man. As a European, he spoke several languages.
He began a career in business. He got married, had two sons.
Then, another world war. Jaskulski worked as an interpreter in France. When it was over he worked for the Americans, at our military headquarters in Vienna.
He divorced, later would say he just wasn't husband material. When one of my stories ran when he was 100, one of his sons e-mailed me, asking how he could get in touch with his father. They hadn't spoken in years, maybe now was the time to connect again.
In 1954 he came to Hawaii. Why? When this story was told, Janklowicz says, the answer was always an old French aphorism. A cool-sounding way of saying he was chasing a girl.
Of course, Jaskulski would laugh, his second wife didn't think he was husband material either.
He worked as a controller at Channel 2 for almost 30 years. He retired, and then he became the old man we all knew.
He hiked, he climbed mountains, he ran. Finally, in his 90s, friends pushed him into competitive sports, the Senior games. He set records, he became famous. Someone got him to sit for a photo for Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd."
He pushed himself, loved to stay fit. His one bragging point was that in all his years he had never had a smoke. He took his sport seriously, but not himself. Janklowicz once asked him, he was such an aficionado, Jaskulski loved music so much, could he play any musical instrument?
"The radio," Erwin said.
But then, his sight abandoned him, and he was forced off the track, still doing pull-ups, running the hallways of his apartment building, where he knew the course by heart. Then, age finally caught him, and he was off his feet. Still trying to do sit-ups in bed. He died at home, 103.
So many adventures. What a life.
They'll celebrate it, all of it, next Sunday at the Pagoda on Mother's Day. Because these are Erwin Jaskulski's services, there will be a string quartet from the Honolulu Symphony to play some of his beloved classical music. And because it's for Erwin, afterward, everyone will go out for a hike.