Fri07252014

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The way of Raye


The muscular man with the bushy white beard has heard it more than once. The warnings usually come from young men working out beside him at the gym, those worried he's lifting too much weight for his age -- and own good.

They obviously don't know Raye Girouard.

"My face gets pretty red, and one guy recently came up to me and asked, 'Aren't you worried about getting your blood pressure up too high?'" said Girouard, who turns 64 next week. "I told him, 'If I die, that's fine; I don't want to go sitting in a chair, waiting around for it. I want to be doing something.' People have this attitude about old people."

An attitude Girouard is doing his part to change.

The longtime Los Altos Hills resident lifts more weight than most people half his age are capable of budging. He set a state record for his age division (60-64) last month by bench-pressing 293.5 pounds at the USAPL California State Powerlifting and Bench Press Championships in Napa. The old mark of 286.5 had stood for five years.

Yet the record-breaking effort, coming on the third and final attempt, was neither surprising nor completely satisfying to Girouard and his son and coach, Jeremiah.

"I knew I could lift the record," said the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Girouard, who'd pumped 320 the prior week during a workout at the El Camino YMCA in Mountain View.

"To be honest, we were a little disappointed," said Jeremiah, a 1998 Los Altos High School graduate. "It was his first time competing, and he was a little nervous. I thought he could have done 315 or 320, but he missed his first two tries and it's hard to go for that on one lift. Next time, he'll go 320 or 325."

Always seeking a new challenge, Girouard now has his sights trained on shattering his own record and attaching his name to a few other weightlifting marks as well. But more on that later.

Weightlifting is just one of many things on Girouard's ever-growing list of talents and accomplishments.

Type his name into an Internet search engine, and the results will lead you to believe there's more than one Raye Girouard out there. Blacksmith? Archer? Track and field competitor? Fire maker? Movie star?

It's all the same man, however. A man with more versatility than a Swiss Army knife.

Raised in Virginia, Girouard evolved into a modern-age version of Daniel Boone.

"He was meant to be born in a previous century," said Paul Gonella, who's known Girouard for 15 years.

Before he reached his teens, Girouard could shoot arrows from a bow with acute accuracy, make fire by spinning a shaft in his hands, shoe horses and spin wool.

Such skills led to a variety of jobs, including archer in Beau Hickory's Wild West Show as a young man. He later did archery demonstrations at the Renaissance Fair, emulating William Tell.

"I would shoot an apple off a friend's head three times a day," said Girouard, who moved to the Bay Area in the 1960s, "or I'd have him toss a dime into the air and hit it with an arrow."

Girouard put his archery skills to the test more than a decade ago, shooting 10,260 arrows at moving targets -- and hitting 85 percent of them -- in a 24-hour period. The feat, covered in the Town Crier by the late Tuck Shepard, is recognized as a record by Bow & Arrow magazine.

Girouard also earned fame as the star of the 1984 IMAX film "Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets," directed by Kieth Merrill of Los Altos Hills. Girouard played the role of Mountain Man in the movie, which included a re-enactment of the 1869 Powell Expedition.

While it may not have been as glamorous, one of Girouard's favorite jobs over the years was putting on historical demonstrations for state and national parks. Girouard said he would start a fire in about 30 seconds; throw a spear nearly 150 yards; make a finishing line out of fibrous plants; and toss a tomahawk at coins, cutting them in half.

Girouard especially enjoyed doing these demonstrations for children.

"The thing that I have learned with young people is that if you do things they consider impossible, they will listen when you talk," he said.

Gonella, a retired Egan Intermediate School teacher and administrator, can attest to that. He was amazed by the demonstrations Girouard performed for Egan students.

"He would come in and teach kids native American culture and lore, and how to make fires without matches," he said of Girouard, who also helped Gonella coach wrestling and track at the school. "He always donated his time and presence to help out, especially when his sons were here."

Girouard landed in Los Altos Hills some 25 years ago, hired by Frank and Josephine Duveneck to patrol the trails of their Hidden Villa Ranch and do demonstrations for children who came to their annual summer camp. Today, Girouard is the caretaker of the Windmill Pasture area, about 500 acres the Duveneck family gave to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

He lives on the property with his wife of 25 years, Susan, and their youngest son, Shawn, a three-sport athlete at Los Altos High finishing up his junior year. Jeremiah attends Sacramento State University, and eldest son Milton (from Girouard's first marriage) lives in Colorado.

It was Milton who encouraged his father to compete in weightlifting and track and field. Milton is a standout thrower in the Masters track program, for those 40 and over, and has also competed in weightlifting events.

Two years ago at the Kel Field Throws Meet in Santa Cruz, Girouard placed in six events -- including shot put, discus, hammer and javelin -- for his age group. It was the first time he had ever participated in a track meet.

Girouard took up weightlifting at around the same time, initially doing so for health reasons.

"I wasn't feeling good," said Girouard, who had nearly 75 percent of his stomach removed years ago when doctors believed that would reduce his severe ulcer problems. "I found that lifting took my pain away. When I was lifting I couldn't feel it -- it was a form of physical transfer."

He started by lifting 150 pounds, steadily increasing his limit with a strict schedule of workouts every other day at the YMCA. Girouard knows only one way to do things: all-out.

"He's a little different when it comes to training," Jeremiah said. "He likes to go really hard and not take a lot of breaks."

With his background, determination and competitive spirit, Girouard seems like a perfect candidate for the CBS reality show "Survivor." Gonella has no doubt about how well Girouard would do on the popular television show, which drops a group of people into the wilderness or a deserted island for up to 39 days to fend for themselves and compete for the title of "ultimate survivor" and a $1 million cash prize.

"The other contestants would be dead and buried before Raye gave up," Gonella said.

Girouard discounts the notion of signing up for such a show, which he called "silly." Beside, he's too busy training for the next USA Powerlifting competition, slated for August. This time, he'll be out for the squat and deadlift records. He's already deadlifting 400 pounds.

"He's in a record-breaking mode," Jeremiah said.

Which means those holding the records Girouard covets shouldn't get too attached to them.

"I wouldn't bet against him," Gonella said. "He'll either do it or die trying."

One gets the impression Girouard wouldn't have it any other way.

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