Back in early 1967, Bob Ray took up jogging to lose a few pounds, "because that was the only reason people ran then." He joined a few friends to run a few miles a few days a week.
Not long after he started running, Ray challenged himself to run every day for a month, then every day for 6 months, then every day for a year. He met every challenge, and then some. Today his daily running streak, which began April 4, 1967, is more than 23 years long.
A meticulous record keeper, Ray figures that by the end of the day today he will have run 8,579 days in a row. Last Tuesday his legs turned over 60,000 miles, and by next Wednesday his average daily mileage over the life of his streak will reach seven. That's low, considering that these days Ray usually runs between 8 and 12 miles a day.
That's running. Walking is another matter. By profession, Ray, 53, is a letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office (read: mailman). That's right, five days a week he warms up for running by walking through Hamilton neighborhoods delivering mail.
"I guess my mom and dad gave me a good pair of feet," the Carney resident says.
"Personally, I think running helps on the job; it makes you more physically fit and able to climb steps."
Maybe so. Ray is 5 feet 10 and weighs a fit 152 pounds. He considers himself extremely lucky to have never had a running-related injury, other than a stubbed toe. Even his worst non-running injury -- three cracked ribs in 1982 -- only slowed him down to two miles a day for a short time.
Ray attributes part of his success to setting goals. Like his goal of running 20 years and 50,000 miles by age 50. He reached that goal successfully in 1987 and rewarded himself with a month-long, cross-country vacation.
But it was really just another goal in disguise. His mission: To run in all 48 contiguous states in a month's time. He used a 1968 Chevy van he rebuilt himself to drive from state to state. His mission was accomplished "in 28 days, 4 hours and 56 minutes."
"I like to do some of these crazy things," he adds.
Indeed, "crazy" seems an apt description for some of the chance encounters Ray has had on the road. He tells of a time a few years ago when he would be joined regularly on his 16-mile run by an uninvited golden retriever.
"I'd pick him up about three miles into my run, near Charles Street and Northern Parkway. He'd go the distance with me and then when I was finished, he'd run the three miles back to his home alone."
Ray says he's convinced the dog was a reincarnated runner. "He was so competitive. He always ran in front of me and no matter how much I'd try to sneak past him, I couldn't."
Perhaps Ray's most fascinating encounter occurred several years ago in Ramblewood.
"I was running down Edgepark Road and a woman came outside yelling, "It's happening now." The woman's neighbor was in labor inside on the kitchen floor.
"That was before 911. I said, 'Boil water and call the doctor.'"
But before help arrived, Ray had delivered the baby. "I grabbed a clean towel and I caught the baby and clipped the cord with vegetable shears."
"The mother never knew my name, but I felt like a proud father."