- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) - Head up to the second floor of Miramont Lifestyle Fitness’ airy northern location, head straight and you’ll likely see him every day starting around 7 a.m.

His mornings begin with a daily brisk, half-mile walk around the gym’s indoor track. Then it’s onto an exercise ball for his back. Next is sit-ups. And you can’t forget the weight machines. If you’re an early riser or a gym person - two categories I gratuitously and inexplicably lump myself into from time to time - you may have heard of Byrd Collins Curtis, the Coloradoan reported (https://noconow.co/1S3c2Gy).

“It’s so important for the body … for me,” Curtis said, sitting in a conference room off of Miramont’s main-floor weight area Wednesday morning.

Clad in a black long-sleeve shirt tucked into matching black track pants, Curtis was on the eve of his 90th birthday.

Asked how he felt about becoming a new nonagenarian, he gave a one-worded answer: “strange.”



Because Curtis doesn’t seem 90.

When we first met, he was rounding the Miramont indoor track with a friend. With a pep in his step, he led me down the Miramont steps to a quiet place where we could talk, all the while fielding greetings from fellow gym goers - members of the same early-morning crowd who, when they see him, let out yells of “Byyyrd!” that cut through the gym’s open air.

It made sense to me in that moment why he’d been lovingly nicknamed “The Mayor of Miramont.” It felt like at any moment, a woman would run up with a baby and ask him to kiss it.

“(Byrd) knows everybody and talks to everybody,” friend and fellow gym goer Bob Fulton said Wednesday afternoon. “They just kind of named him that.”

Curtis started going to Miramont North in 2001 after trying a handful of other gyms in the area. He said he likes the open space, and then, of course, there are the people.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, he studied agronomy at Oklahoma State University and earned his Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics. A longtime wheat scientist, his job took him all over, including to Fort Collins in 1963, when he started Colorado State University’s wheat breeding program.

From there, he took a job with Cargill Inc., a private international company that provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products. With Cargill, he traveled the world, living in Syria and Mexico and visiting places like Argentina and France.

And even abroad, Curtis said he made a point of staying physically fit. Growing up with parents who worked on farms, he was no stranger to hard work, and his time walking through wheat fields kept him in good shape. But he says he also started working out in gyms in 1974. In different countries, he’d find a way.

As a veteran - he enlisted in the Air Force after high school, was commissioned into the Army after college and retired as a colonel after three years of active duty and 33 in the Army Reserve - he was allowed to workout in gyms on military bases.

And when he couldn’t find a gym, “I’d walk to walk,” he said, on top of the walking he already did through wheat fields eight to 10 months out of the year, evaluating wheat based on its yield, straw strength, disease resistance and gluten quality.

After retiring in 1991, Curtis and his wife moved back to Fort Collins, where many of his kids still live.

And he threw himself even more into staying fit. Seven days a week, starting at 7 a.m., he’s at Miramont. And he’ll go on and on about the merits of exercise. Not only does it help keep him agile, but it helps him stay mentally alert and gives him a boost when he needs it.

“I can wake up feeling a little blue, and I’ll come here and talk to everyone and I’ll leave feeling …” he trails off, gesturing like his workouts leave him light and make him feel like a weight is lifted.

We talk for a bit longer about a little of everything.

Byrd? Is that a nickname?

“No,” he says.

His father gave it to him, “and it’s caused me problems:” all his life, he jokes, flapping his arms like wings and saying people would see him and say, “Oh, here he comes!”

What about his family?

The Curtis clan is made up of he and his wife, Eloise - “same woman for 70 years!” he quipped - their six children (four boys and two girls), 15 grandkids and 14 “greats,” he says.

We talk about Fort Collins, what it was like in 1963 and how his family lived in the Indian Hills neighborhood, which was, at that time, brand new.

And the whole time, I’m hanging onto a secret. A surprise party to celebrate Curtis’ birthday was planned and he had no idea.

His gym friends, like Fulton, knew that 90 was a big milestone and started putting together a bigger birthday party than they usually do for Curtis, which has consisted in recent years of just cake and singing “Happy Birthday.”

This time, however, they secretly gathered with plans to make him an orange and black - OSU colors - shirt that said “Byrd,” a baseball cap with “1926” on it, marking his birth year and a big decorative key.

So at 8 a.m Friday morning, after his daily workout, Mayor Byrd was presented with a big, gray, “key to the city,” decorated with ribbon and marked with the words “Byrd - Mayor of Miramont.”

OK, so maybe Miramont isn’t a city, but it is a community - one that came together to celebrate a person who makes it great, someone who makes it special.

___

Information from: Fort Collins Coloradoan, https://www.coloradoan.com

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