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Alumni Profile

Silver streak

Donald Lewis

Speed demon Donald Lewis, BS ME ’66, leads a group of 60-and-older cross-country motorcycle racers. The 68-year-old now trains for the 2012 Dakar Rally. Photo courtesy of Donald Lewis

In 2006, Donald Lewis stood atop Vinson Massif, Antarctica’s highest peak, and stared into the silver horizon. The 16,050-foot climb was an impressive accomplishment for a person of any age, but the then 63-year-old adventurer was just revving his engine.

Five years later, Lewis, BS ME ’66, has reached the summit of a different extreme sport: cross-country motorcycle racing. In December 2010, he won his third season championship in the age-60 class at the SCORE International Baja, Mexico, race series.

Lewis is the rider of record on a team that has varied from four to eight members. In endurance races, teams can substitute the lead rider as many times as they choose, but the rider of record’s name is listed in the results.

Lewis grew up in Louisiana, Mo., and he first raced a motorcycle in 1968. Although he has always been athletic, he had gone decades without racing. The Marlborough, Conn., resident wanted to challenge himself, but first he had to establish the age bracket; the oldest class previously was 50.

“At the outset, there was a lot of laughing under the breath,” says Lewis, who rides a CRF450X Honda. “Like, ‘What? Sixty-year-old guys racing motorcycles? You’ll be lucky if you don’t fall over like dominoes.’ ”

He recruited a formidable cohort, and in 12 races since 2006, Lewis has stifled any laughter. His team’s fastest recorded average speed is 101 mph on a dry lake bed in Mexico.

Now he’s preparing for the 2012 Dakar Rally, widely regarded as one of the world’s most difficult races. Originally known as the Paris to Dakar (Senegal) Rally, the race was moved to Chile in 2009 for security reasons. The 2010 installment lasted 14 days across 6,000 miles. When Lewis enters, he believes he will be the oldest rider in the event’s history.

Lewis also recently picked up a passenger when he married Torin Lee on Valentine’s Day 2011. She plans to travel with him to South America for next year’s race.

“I started with the goal of proving that people in their 60s are highly capable in many different ways,” Lewis says. “This has absolutely redefined for me what’s possible in life.” — Marcus Wilkins