Carl DePolo: Heartfelt Quest for a Personal Best

Patty Fuller
By Patty Fuller December 15, 2014 16:00

rich millerCarl DePolo is something of a Renaissance man – or at least a jack-of-all-trades.

He’s a photographer, musician, songwriter, skier and golfer. He’s sold real estate, played softball and tended bar.

DePolo is also a survivor, having weathered a heart attack at age 40. Now 69, he attributes his greatly improved health to one more pursuit – a simple one that he considers a lifesaver.

He jogs two miles a day. Every day, without fail. Since May 13, 2009. That’s more than 2,000 runs and 4,000 miles.

“And I will go on doing this forever, or as long as my knees hold up,” he says with a laugh while sitting on his deck overlooking Willow Springs Lake.

He has run around the neighborhood lake thousands of times, through searing heat, driving rain and even a particularly cold storm that required him to slog through a two-foot blanket of snow.

Today, despite his wide range of accomplishments, he’s especially proud of his running.

“I have not missed a day and neither has Bear,” says DePolo, leaning over to pat the black Lab-mix he adopted more than six years ago.

Active and athletic while growing up in the Bay Area, DePolo – the son of two musicians – admits letting his then-healthy lifestyle slip after forming a rock band with friends in the mid-1960s.

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DePolo (at  far right) with bandmates

That his band, The Baytovens, was popular throughout California and had a regional hit in “Waiting for You” did little to get DePolo back into exercise.

The Baytovens parted ways after about two years, but DePolo remained in the music business for another two. Then on a whim – based in part on happy childhood memories – he moved to Tuolumne County with a friend in late 1969. “My grandparents had owned a vacation cabin in Twain Harte since 1943, and I loved the place. As a child I spent a lot of time here, skiing and on summer vacations.”

Their only plan was to ski Dodge Ridge’s slopes that winter. DePolo worked at the ski resort for one season, then sailed and worked as a waiter in Pinecrest during the warmer months.

He married, had a son and took more jobs to pay the bills.

“I had four at one time,” he recalls. “I was a photographer, sold low-flow showerheads, tended bar and sold real estate. But I was also smoking cigarettes, eating anything I wanted, and starting to get out of shape.”

He tried to run for exercise but never got far. He quit smoking in late 1984, but in early 1985 he woke up one morning and couldn’t breathe.

“It was like a cramp in my chest,” recalls DePolo, who went to his doctor’s office for an electrocardiogram. “My friend, you’re having a heart attack,” pronounced Dr. Jim Mosson.

DePolo underwent an angioplasty – a “Roto-Rooter” procedure, as he describes it, to clear a blocked artery – and remained in intensive care for six days. Within a few weeks he was improving and paid attention when his surgeon warned that a healthier lifestyle was essential to continued recovery.

So DePolo began following the doctor’s orders by walking about a half-hour daily. Soon he graduated to regular runs along the Sugar Pine Railroad grade near Lyons Reservoir. He adopted better eating habits and was soon down to 150 pounds, 40 pounds below his pre-heart-attack weight.

Though running remained part of his healthier lifestyle, it still wasn’t a daily ritual. Then, in mid-2009 came “the event that really turned me around,” DePolo says. It was a news report on a Florida man who had been running daily for 34 years.

“He hadn’t missed a day. So I said, ‘Wow, all right, I’m going to run that way,’ ” he says with a smile. “The next day I started the streak. Then came 100 days, and I kept on going and going.”

DePolo admits that two miles isn’t an impressive distance. And he’s never aspired to enter a 10K race, join a running club or find running mates. But the fact that he has run every day for more than five years is something he feels good about – literally. He hasn’t been sick once since his streak began, he says.

main-pic-carl-solo-RWM_0317-220-2-193“Running has become such a habit now, I love it,” he says. “I do it usually first thing in the morning, and it sets the table for the rest of the day. … I’m never tempted to miss it. I just do it, and I don’t want to stop – I’ve got this record going.”

His doctors are impressed by his health and his ongoing running streak, DePolo says. A recent treadmill test showed his once-strained heart to be fully functioning.

Now single, DePolo’s lifelong interests in photography and music keep him busy. He’s out with his cameras as often as possible and still sells photos he took of Jimi Hendrix and other rock legends back in the ’60s. His living room doubles as a music studio where he and friends often gather. They perform and record favorites and originals, and experiment with new sounds.

But late nights are rare and the daily run is a must. To that end, he has a few suggestions for anyone thinking about starting to exercise.

“It’s about finding a niche, something you like,” he says. “And make it fun.”

Having Bear as a partner, DePolo says, encourages him. So do the music and Spanish lessons he listens to on his smart phone while warming up, running, then cooling down. “I’m not fast, so the whole thing takes about 40 minutes, and that’s 40 minutes of great music or Spanish lessons.”

Bear, too, has benefitted from the daily jaunts. “He was aggressive and hard to control when I adopted him,” says his master. “The running has made him a better dog and a better companion.”

DePolo says his daily runs are part of a new, better life he is leading.

“I’m on this quest to be the best human being I can be. My life is peaceful and content, I’m playing music, golfing and skiing, and the exercise has really helped,” he says. “I want to live to be 100. That’s my goal. And I’m going to keep on running.”

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Patty Fuller
By Patty Fuller December 15, 2014 16:00
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1 Comment

  1. Aheidi May 14, 15:43

    Great story of redemption, Carl! You are an inspiration for all of us.

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