If you live or work at NewBridge on the Charles, one of Hebrew SeniorLife’s continuing care retirement communities, chances are you’ve noticed Irving Backman. Every morning, regardless of weather, Backman laces up a pair of Saucony sneakers, grabs his handheld radio and begins his daily run around our campus.
“I run in blizzards, ice storms and heat waves. I suppose the only thing that stopped me was not rain, but floods, when water is more than two inches deep.”
At 88 years old, Irving Backman has been running for health for over 50 years. He tracked his daily mileage from 1958 to 2006. By that point, he’d covered a distance greater than 3 times the circumference of the globe. Since then he’s stopped counting. “I did 7 miles a day for many years, then 6, then 5 and 3 miles a day. When I hit my 88th birthday this month, I promised my wife I would cut back to 2 or 2.5 miles. It may take me just as long, but the distance will be shorter.”
Asked why he is so committed to this routine, uncommon among even the fittest older runners, he explains, “I do some of my best thinking and problem solving in that hour or hour and a half.” It’s hard to argue with success. In addition to being a lifelong runner, Irving Backman has been a lifelong entrepreneur and innovator in environmentally friendly technologies and alternative energy development. He currently leads The DATT Group, "Developers of Advanced Technology Today," a team of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and environmentalists, brought together by Backman to advance technologies that tackle today’s environmental, public health, and energy issues.
“My morning run is when I formulate and organize most all my ideas. It gives me a chance to refine my thinking and calm down. I have a fairly hectic day, even at this age. I’ve been busy all my life and it gives me a time to get away from the phones.” Spend a little time with Irving Backman and you’ll see what he means. During our short visit, Backman took two telephone calls. One came from a collaborator in Colombia where he is piloting a hydroponic farming program to support South American agriculture during their rain and drought seasons, another brought news about a technological advancement in the pursuit of clean coal.
For a man so motivated by challenges large and small, it may come as a surprise that Backman’s never been that interested in athletic competition, except of course competition with himself. Though Irving has never officially run the Boston Marathon, each year he has his own marathon routine to get him in the spirit. “For about 25 years, I’ve gone out in the morning at about 7 am on the day of the race to unofficially run along a short portion of the route and take it all in.” Backman likes to run the segment of the race known as Heartbreak Hill, on Commonwealth Avenue between Newton Center and Cleveland Circle. “It’s exciting at that hour, the water stations are being assembled, the pizza and hot dog stands are getting organized, the television crews are setting up their cameras on telephone poles with cherry pickers and colorful yellow-clad police officers are lining up for security instructions. For the real runners, who have just completed 20 miles, this is the last big hill of the course.” Backman likes to joke, “I’ve been the first one over Heartbreak Hill for the past 25 years!”
About Hebrew SeniorLife Independent Living Communities
Hebrew SeniorLife offers a variety of options for senior living in Massachusetts open to residents of all backgrounds, faiths and cultures. At the heart of our philosophy is the fundamental belief that buildings are more than just places to live and that our senior housing should foster a sense of home and community living. Our senior living communities promote wellness and active, energetic lifestyles. At our communities, we encourage independence and self-fulfillment. Our innovative programs and affiliation with Harvard Medical School are helping to shape the very meaning of retirement living.