At age 88, Minnesota’s senior triathlete still loves a challenge. The latest for Bob Powers ’49, M.B.A. ’98, was the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship in mid-August in Burlington, Vt. He won his 85 to 99 age group, besting a 76-year-old along the way. As usual, he was the age group (race results).
Not much has changed for Powers in the years since he was featured in an alumni profile in the fall 2006 St. Thomas magazine. (See profile below.) This ex-Marine, a WWII and Korean War vet, still seeks adventure and the challenge of triathlons.
“I like doing the races, and I figured Burlington would be a different venue. I could swim in Lake Champlain and see a lot of different people from all over the country,” he remarked. “It just sounded like something exciting.”
Exciting and definitely challenging in 80-degree temperatures over a course that included a half-mile swim, a 12.4-mile bike race, and a 3.1-mile run, all in one day – back-to-back. (And riding a yellow bike that’s 20-plus years old, which he jokingly referred to as “Old Faithful.”)
He notes that his competitive goals are the same as in 2006: “To get to the starting line and to get to the finish line.”
Powers, a White Bear Lake resident, finished strong in Burlington. “I felt pretty good, actually,” he said. “I was kind of beat but I had no cramping. That’s one thing. I’ve been cramping up in the swim … . My legs felt really good. I was tired but no sharp pains or anything.”
Competing, he said, keeps him “focused … to have a goal and try to attain it.” Focused, indeed. He also competed in three local triathlons this summer and two duathlons (run-bike-run), including the USA Triathlon National Duathlon Championship last April in Tucson, Ariz., which he also won (race results).
His final race this season will be the Halloween Gray Ghost 5K Oct. 27 in Anoka.
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Editor's note: The following alumni profile was published in the fall 2006 St. Thomas magazine.
Bob Powers ’49: A Hero for the Ages
By Tom Couillard '75
Bob Powers ’49 is one soldier – a Marine actually – who will not fade away. At age 82, the three-time Purple Heart winner remains as hard-charging today competing in triathlons as he was during World War II on Okinawa, where as a corporal he was awarded the Navy Cross for “extraordinary heroism.” Only the Medal of Honor ranks higher.
Powers remains a hero but now to a younger generation in a different field – triathlons – at any age a grueling test of swimming, biking and running. He generates the loudest cheers when his name is announced as he crosses the finish line, always at the head of his age group. In fact, he usually is the age group; nationally, only a handful of people his age are up to the rigors of the triathlon.
One of four brothers who served in the Marine Corps following graduation from Mahtomedi High School, he is proud of his 20 years of service, his 43-year career with The St. Paul Companies and its affiliates (now St. Paul Travelers), and his bond with St. Thomas. He gently laughs that it was his immigrant Irish-Catholic mother who directed him to St. Thomas after World War II, but adds, “It had everything I wanted – a good education, a Catholic school, and it was very close to home.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed St. Thomas,” he remarked. “Those were happy days there. I had just come out of the Marines. It was tough adjusting, admittedly. I used to walk down East River Road more than a few times. I just couldn’t settle down. … You miss the guys. You wish you were back over there with them.”
With the Marine Raiders and then the Fourth Marines he saw action on Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam and Okinawa. He still has the helmet he wore on Okinawa’s infamous Sugar Loaf Hill when a bullet tore through it and clipped his head. The helmet has entry and exit holes large enough to poke a finger through.
“I was very lucky,” he said.
He got his wish to be back with “the guys” a few years later. Upon graduation from St. Thomas he accepted a commission as a second lieutenant of Marines. He volunteered to go overseas when the Korean War broke out and received his third Purple Heart while serving as a rifle platoon commander with the Seventh Marines.
While retired he earned an M.B.A. from St. Thomas in 1998. A widower with four children, he lives in White Bear Lake just a short jog from the scene of a local triathlon. He has earned the admiration off all who watch him compete.
Still Marine-Corps buff at 82, with hair still high and tight, he jokes that his goal now is “to get to the starting line and to get to the finish line.”
“I was telling one of the guys the other day that at the Grand Rapids Timberman Triathlon I set a personal record,” Powers recalled with a chuckle. “He said, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yeah, for slowest.’" Slow? Maybe, but a hero never fades.
Excerpt of Navy Cross Citation – Robert A. Powers
“For extraordinary heroism … . After all senior non-commissioned officers had become casualties, Corporal Powers promptly assumed the duties of platoon sergeant of two combined platoons and, when a fierce enemy counterattack was launched against the company’s line on King Ridge during the night, he continually exposed himself to intense hostile fire to encourage his men and direct the firing of his automatic weapons. When enemy troops infiltrated through the lines while the attack was at its peak, mingling with our forces and causing many casualties with grenades and bayonets, Corporal Powers courageously leaped from his foxhole and moved up and down the line, annihilating the enemy soldiers and reorganizing his own men.”