Now 95, the Southern Oregon resident and former track coach has a track named after him

by: CANDY PUTERBAUGH - Bulkley at the Southern Oregon University track field before it was dedicated to him and renamed the Dan Bulkley Track last November.

Oregon can boast a generous sprinkling of gold-toting Olympic athletes. But all that glitters is not Olympic gold. A lesser known treasure trove of medals shines near the hills of Ashland, in a well-kept mobile home park at the door of Dan Bulkley.

In the past 25 years, Bulkley, 95, has traveled coast-to-coast and continent-to-continent to compete in national and international masters competitions, bringing home gold in track, cross-country skiing, badminton, the decathlon and pentathlon. He earned an age-group world record in the 300-meter hurdles the first year he competed in masters track, and later in the two-kilometer steeplechase.

But prior to his personal athletic achievements, Bulkley advanced others’ athletic goals as associate professor of health and physical education at Southern Oregon University from 1950 to 1977, and founder of programs in track and field, cross country, tennis, and skiing. Five halls of fame bear his name, celebrating his rare combination of coaching and athletic abilities.

One of the most successful coaches in the history of Oregon athletics, and one of the most humble, recently had SOU’s track named for him.

For Bulkley, it’s never been about Bulkley, said Monty Cartwright, former SOU athletic director and track and field coach who, along with former longtime SOU women’s coach and PE teacher Sally Jones, spearheaded the track renaming.

“Dan started the track program and set the stage,” Cartwright said. “But it’s important to know that this is beyond Dan’s track coach success record. He’s very supportive of the whole SOU program and the community. When asked, he talked to my PE classes about the importance of being active, especially in old age — not with bravado but just to share. He doesn’t have an ego. He cares for people, and that transfers to the students. The way he lives — he’s an athlete’s coach.”

In addition to coaching at SOU, Bulkley also served on the Mt. Ashland Ski Patrol for 28 years and helped start the Oregon Nordic Club. He is still a member and teaches cross-country lessons every year.

“I guess I helped get Mt. Ashland going,” he said modestly. “I was on the committee that got the ski area started.”

As track and field coach, Bulkley used cinders from a National Forest Service stockpile to build the track. His teams won seven conference and three NAIA regional titles. His athletes won 117 individual conference or regional titles, and at the NAIA level two athletes won national championships and 11 earned All-American honors.

Bulkley blasted into national competition at age 70, when a friend talked him into running in a national masters meet. That year he not only set an age group world record in the 300-meter hurdles in Australia, he appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces In the Crowd.” Entering many Portland track meets, he joined the Portland Masters Track Club and was the keynote speaker at their annual banquet last year.

At world championship meets, he earned 29 golds in track, 16 in cross-country skiing, and one in the pentathlon. From age 70 to 84 he was unbeaten worldwide in the two-kilometer steeplechase and the 300-meter hurdles, his favorite event.

Bulkley is compact and well-toned at 5 feet 4 inches, 130 pounds. His words come soft-spoken and measured. His mind, like his muscle, is active. He still drives, like he runs, at a good pace. His eye contact is calm and steady, like his demeanor, hiding the hustle inside.

“He’s never still a minute,” said his smiling and enthusiastic wife Marjorie. “He’s always active, from when he gets up in the morning to after dinner when he works in his vegetable garden. He’s very easy to get along with and doesn’t get upset about things. Each time he’s had to cut back or age slows him down, he accepts it. Like when at 85 he couldn’t do hurdles any more, he didn’t get unhappy.”

Bulkley and Marjorie seem a happy team, married 29 years, both for the second time as their spouses died the same year. They each have two daughters, and are grand- and great-grandparents.

He was born and raised in Thailand, in the middle of six brothers and sisters, and schooled in India. His father was a missionary doctor and his mother a teacher.

“No one had cars, so we walked everywhere,” he said. “That helped develop my legs early on.”

That also helped him when he moved to California at age 18 for his final year of high school. He ran some track, joined the football team, and played in the first football game he’d ever seen! He competed in football, track and tennis at Pomona College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in PE, plus a Master’s degree from Claremont Graduate School. He then taught high school PE in California and coached football and track for two years.

Bulkley joined the Navy for 4-1/2 years, two years of that in a special intelligence unit, the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). He was in an airplane ready to parachute into central Thailand when the atomic bomb was dropped and his mission cancelled.

In 1950 he headed in a different direction, north, jumping at the chance to take the job as PE teacher and coach at Southern Oregon College of Education (now SOU) in Ashland.

Bulkley trains all year, running three days a week, doing weight-training, and riding a stationery bike. He also plays pickle ball and competes in badminton and cross-country skiing.

His joints? They’re all his. He had one surgery 10 years ago for sciatica, and has a pacemaker. He’s never had knee, hip or shoulder problems.

Besides vegetable gardening, Bulkley works at the local food bank, is a member and past president twice of the Ashland Lions Club, and helps keep the grounds at the Presbyterian church. He said he didn’t think about what he ate until 30 years ago. Now he consumes homemade bread and granola, vegetables, minimal red meat, no soft drinks or fast food, and has a glass of red wine before dinner. He’s always gotten at least eight hours of sleep.

Bulkley doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, on the track or off. As he says, “You don’t slow down when you grow old; you grow old when you slow down.”

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