Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

September 16, 2012

Larue Barnes: Pedaling for endurance

77-year-old Cecil Cammack bikes more than 20 miles three days a week, all for his health


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You may have seen a tall, slender man riding his bike early in the mornings. Cecil Cammack of Cleburne is dedicated to pedaling more than 20 miles three days a week. He is 77.

“It’s not as easy now as it was five years ago,” Cammack said with a smile. “If it is raining or really cold I switch to a stationary bike at home. I have it set up for inclines that more or less match my ride. It’s not as interesting — I put my Kindle on a stand and read while I ride. I enjoy getting out and seeing things.”

About 10 years ago he was working at his computer all day and had gained weight.

“My blood pressure and cholesterol were high. My doctor said I needed exercise and a heart-healthy diet. I decided to do something about it. I bought a bike at a discount store and began to ride short distances — no farther than the post office. It took me six months to lose the weight and increase my endurance. I began to go out early in the morning when it was cooler.”

He takes no medication for his blood pressure now and takes a fairly low dosage of Lipitor for his cholesterol.

“I find the ride to be pleasant. I enjoy getting out — and take my iPod with me. My music is random, from the 1930s to current. People wonder if I can hear traffic sounds with my head phones on, but I can.” 

He soon got dissatisfied with his inexpensive road bike.

“It kept dropping the chain and it got out of adjustment. I knew I wanted to continue to ride, so I purchased a $350 standard trek bike. I’m comfortable on it because the handle bars go straight out and make me sit straight. That’s easier on my back. I cover several routes on highways and roads rather than in-town riding. “

Cammack was given his first used bike when he was a third grader. Born in Abilene to Cecil and Ruth Cammack with an older sister, Virginia, he spent his growing up years in Fort Worth, graduating from Paschal High School in 1952.

His father, an attorney and a previous band director, encouraged his son to play his old trumpet in the school band. Quiet by nature, Cecil preferred to be in the back of the classroom. 

“My skills were mixed. I did not have an ear at all for foreign language and yet I received a physics medal. If I could see a pattern, I excelled. Otherwise, I didn’t.”

He enrolled at Texas Christian University. Being in the band brought the excitement of playing for U.S. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. 

He was attending the University of Texas Law School in Houston when as an ROTC student he was called into six-months of active service at Fort Eustis, Va., in the Transportation Corps. 

“Well, actually, I thought serving as an officer was better than being drafted as a private. It was between wars and the Army didn’t really have much for us to do. Since I had begun law school they let me work as a prosecutor in the special courts martial some.”

He added, “After I graduated from law school in 1958, I worked as an Assistant Attorney General in Austin for three years in the Law Enforcement Division. 

“Then I began my career with the Internal Revenue Service in Fort Worth. I met my future wife, Irene Reynolds, and we married in 1968.” 

He recalls traveling to Cleburne on occasion with his work, auditing federal estate tax and gift tax returns. He said the work affected a very small percentage of the population and that the estate and gift tax rules have changed considerably since he retired.

Starting around 1980, he wrote a specialized software program to compute these taxes. When the IRS shut down their compute section in 1985, he said they asked him to furnish his program to the IRS Service Centers. Since then the IRS has used his programs for this purpose.

“In 1990, I began to redesign the DOS program so that it would support a mouse and then in 1995, I rewrote the program to support Windows. The IRS has the rights to use my program code.”

Through the years Irene had worked with the U. S. Weather Bureau, the Secret Service, and at TXU at Comanche Peak until her retirement. Cecil retired from the IRS in 1998. They have a daughter, Wendy Cammack of Cleburne and a son, William Cammack of Crowley. There are two grandchildren, Elizabeth Cammack and Andrew Cammack.

In 1975, they moved from Fort Worth to Nemo. He was joined by Irene on his bike rides.

“We bought bikes and rode together for several years. We made long trips together. It took us two days to ride to Bridgeport and three days to reach Abilene. We always rode one way and came home by car.”

Now Irene stays busy assisting fellow members of Granbury Street Church of Christ in Cleburne.

You can be sure that Cecil stays busy and has a plan. 

He explained, “I wear an orange vest, biking gloves with padded palm and no fingers and helmet. I wear regular slacks with elastic around the legs to keep out of the chain, and long sleeved shirts. In good weather, I usually leave at 6:15 to 6:30 in the mornings. I average 10 to 11 miles an hour for 20.5 miles per day. I have several routes out in the country by rivers and on less-traveled highways and back in.”

He has ridden in the Goatneck bike race for the last several years, he said.

“A shorter ride — just 27 miles. I have to pace myself or I pay for it all day.”

I noticed he wore his wedding ring on his right hand. I asked about that.

“I’m left handed, that’s why. A ring can get you hurt. Irene wants me to wear it, so it’s a perfectly normal thing for me.”

Cammack also mows his yard with an electrical push mower that is not self-propelled.

Dr. Juanita Reyes, principal of Irving Elementary School (and my ex-student) called me early one morning to tell me about a man that she saw riding his bike faithfully out in the country — that he inspired her so much that she wondered if I could write about him.

She called again to tell me she had stopped and found out his name and telephone number, but that she didn’t know where he lived.

I did. He was my neighbor. We had never had a conversation. That’s what “Getting to Know You” is all about.

Larue Barnes may be reached at laruebarnes@yahoo.com.