Long Beach loses its 106-year-old symbol of cycling

Until two years ago, Octavio Orduno was a frequent sight cycling around Long Beach. The 106-year-old has died

Octavio Orduno, known as the oldest cyclist in Long Beach, if not the world, has died. He was 106.

The retired aerospace mechanic from Santa Paula was a local celebrity among cyclists in the south bay. Every day, he would pedal down Ocean Boulevard to the beach, park or farmer's market — ignoring the roar of lawn mowers and growls of pit bulls, but always smiling as he passed young women in flowery skirts.

Some days he would get stuck on an incline and had to will his legs to pump. Drivers from passing cars used to cheer him on, "You can do it!"

"He was our Superman," said his daughter, Angelina Orduno. A stubborn one.

The father of six preferred a two-wheeler. But at 100 years old, his wife, Alicia, insisted he get a tricycle.

When the city's bike coordinator, Charles Gandy, learned about Orduno's enthusiasm, he promoted the centenarian's story online. Orduno became the grinning symbol of cycling in the city. Fans would greet him at bike-lane ribbon cuttings and bike festivals.

"He was the embodiment of health, vitality and longevity," said Gandy, who now runs his own consulting firm. "He was also full of mischief."

At public events, he soaked up the attention. He used to greet the men with tight handshakes and approach the ladies with gentle hands and puckered lips.

He had trouble seeing and couldn't hear well, but each time someone asked him his secret to a long life he gave the same answer: "Keep moving and eat healthy."

He seemed to live on vegetables, fruits and nuts. He also had an appetite for Mexican telenovelas.

His own life, too, was pretty dramatic.

As a teenager during the Great Depression, he ran away from home, wandering from Oregon to Wisconsin by freight train. Later he became a gardener to the stars: Claudette Colbert, Charlie Ruggles, William S. Hart. During World War II, too old to enlist, he taught women how to build airplane engines. At his 104th birthday party, he jitterbugged to his favorite mariachi music.

"He just loved life," Angelina said. "And he wasn't going to go down without a fight."

Cycling became the highlight of otherwise uneventful days in his later years.

"It gave him something to do," said his oldest son, Eddie Orduno, 83.

Alicia, his wife of 60 years, got used to him coming home scraped and bruised. Once, he arrived in the back of a police car. Another time, he crashed against a two-wheeler and ended up in the hospital. He had a concussion and could not recognize anyone for days.

Soon, though, he was back on his red Torker tricycle. His usual ride was to Bixby Park, where he watched the skateboarders do ollies and flips.

He quit those journeys two years ago because no matter how hard he tried, he could no longer get his trike up his building's inclined driveway.

That didn't stop him from riding, though — in tight circles around his building's parking garage.

What finally stopped him was the theft of his bike's front wheel.

"He was upset," Eddie said. "But I think, by then, he was too old to keep going."

Orduno spent days by the window, watching the world go by. Gradually he became weaker, and on doctors' advice, the family put him in a convalescent home.

The old man was not happy. One day, he got up, determined to head out the front door, Eddie said. He fell and broke his hip.

Several days later, on Jan. 16, he died due to complications of the fall. He was two months short of another birthday party.

"If he could, he would have been riding still," Eddie said. "He would have made it to 107."

Twitter: @LATBermudez

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