Register's Outdoor Sportsman of Year keeps it fun
Whiting: Meet our Outdoor Sportsman of Year
What a crazy cool year we had in 2011.
It seemed that every time I chugged up some trail, I ran into someone training for something amazing – Everest, Ironman, 100-mile races – or I met someone enjoying a simple hike.
It wasn't easy deciding on The Register's Outdoor Sportsperson of the Year. But the more I thought about it, the easier it became. One name just kept coming back.
I first met Malewicki, now 72, while running the Saddleback Marathon when he was a wee lad of 68. The race is called California's toughest marathon for good reason. It crosses streams, covers rocky trails and includes 5,162 feet of gain.
But that race is a warm-up compared to the last time I saw Malewicki.
In August, we teamed up for a day while running the Gore-Tex TransRockies, a six-day race covering 120 miles and 20,000 feet of gain.
I never wrote about that day with Malewicki because there were so many other awesome runners from Orange County, including Malewicki's daughter, ultra star Michelle Barton.
But Malewicki is unique, and it's not because he has calf muscles most of us would kill for.
The weird thing is that he's perpetually peppy. Even while slogging 25 miles up and down a mountain or riding a bike from San Francisco to Orange County, something he's done five times.
I suspect it's because Malewicki focuses on helping others.
POSITIVE ENERGY, POSITIVE ATTITUDE
That first time I met Malewicki, Stanford graduate (master's degree), aerospace engineer, inventor and Irvine resident, I was huffing and puffing up the Holy Jim Trail thinking I was hopelessly behind.
Malewicki paused in his tracks and – as if he'd known me all his life – gleefully shouted, "There's only five people ahead of you!"
His enthusiasm was like rocket fuel. I thanked him at the finish line and wondered how he managed to be so far along on the trail when we first met. He confessed the race director, "Big Baz" Hawley, allowed him to start early and calculated his time accordingly. But don't underestimate this man who proudly calls himself an "old goat."
I've seen photos of his exploits. There he is, grinning atop a 10,000-foot volcano, celebrating climbing Mount Whitney (His fifth summit was in 2010), sipping champagne at Yosemite's Glacier Point.
Malewicki celebrated his 72nd birthday last March by running 76.56 miles (It was supposed to be 72 miles but he was having so much fun...) in five days with 10,260 feet of gain.
Some might say Malewicki is blessed with great genes. And there does seem to be some of that.
But his true secret is positive energy, positive attitude. And trail running.
Oh, and beer.
"Many of my high school friends have had knee replacements, hip replacements, back surgeries," Malewicki says. "They are also dying off."
His younger brother who lives in Chicago is overweight, used to smoke and for the last three years has required supplemental oxygen. Ever the engineer, Malewicki offers, "It's sad as we must share 99.98 percent of the same genes."
The major difference between the two brothers is that the one in Chicago watches sports. The one in Orange County does them.
For 25 years, Malewicki was an avid road runner and backpacker. He loved few things more than spending a week in the mountains.
Which mountains? You get your answer when you meet his granddaughter, Sierra.
But then Malewicki discovered long-distance trail running. You could say the speed and endurance challenge better suited his interests.
Despite his fancy degree, Malewicki, a licensed pilot, didn't last long as a big-company aerospace engineer. He was too eager to invent new and better ways to do things.
In 1965, he developed the appropriately called "Nuclear War Game." Malewicki calls it, "My very goofy game that two out of three times everybody loses!"
The game, which recently went digital, still pays Malewicki $400 a month.
His next success was developing something he dubbed the "SkyCycle X-1," a prototype that '70s motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel considered before his attempt to jump Idaho's Snake River canyon.
After that, Malewicki came up with his "Robosaurus," a fire breathing, car eating 54,000-pound, 40-foot, um, monster robot.
His current project is the SkyTran, which he describes as a magnetically levitated, high-speed, on-demand transportation system. "Popular Science" magazine was impressed enough to feature an artist's rendering on the cover of its July 2008 issue.
"SkyTran can totally eliminate commuter congestion in any city," Malewicki says, "for the same cost as a single line of Light Rail."
What's all this have to do being Outdoor Sportsman of the Year?
Balance. My focus is on amateur athletes, and we all have to make a living. I just couldn't resist sharing Malewicki's.
Malewicki's just as happy talking about the outdoors.
WAS IT A RACE OR A PARTY?
In the spring, I spotted Malewicki with his daughter and granddaughter at the Irvine Lake Mud Run.
By nature an inclusive kind of guy, Malewicki invited me to join them. Waiting in line, he encouraged everyone around to have fun, shaking hands, offering tips.
As our wave started, he didn't waste a second. But this event was more about family and Michelle and Sierra stayed close. Still, Malewicki placed first in his age group – the 66-99 year olds.
His closest competitor? Eighteen minutes behind.
Running with Malewicki during the TransRockies race in August was something like hanging out in the back of the bus as a kid in junior high.
Remember? The studious kids sat in front. The party kids sat in the rear.
On a Rocky Mountain high, Malewicki reveled at the back of the pack of runners.
He chattered and cheered. He told stories. He made friends. For Malewicki, it wasn't so much a race as it was a rolling party.
How much of a party?
Managers at several aide stations brought beer – just for Malewicki and his running partner.
It was raucous. But not because how much beer was guzzled. Truth be told, Malewicki sipped less than half a bottle.
After all, TransRockies covers an average 20 miles a day, often at 10,000-12,500 feet.
The aide stations were raucous just because of Malewicki's presence. At each, he went of his way to make sure the volunteers knew how much they were appreciated.
So it's not about being the fastest or the hardest or the baddest that Malewicki deserves being The Register's Outdoor Sportsperson of the Year.
It's that he inspires and embodies why we venture outdoors.
To have fun.
David Whiting's column also appears News One Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays; email@example.com.