The star of the PAC
Every morning — except for most Sundays — you can find Dr. Denny Thomas walking on a treadmill down at the Prineville Athletic Club.
You may think that's no big deal — a medical doctor getting his daily dose of exercise — but Thomas just celebrated his 95th birthday.
"We're pretty proud of him down here," says PAC co-owner Lori Goodman.
On his birthday a few weeks ago, Goodman put on a little surprise birthday party for him, with balloons, cake and his friends at the PAC.
"He is the star around here, that's for sure," Goodman says.
Thomas says he's strictly an Oregon product, having grown up in Amity, a little town in the Willamette Valley. He graduated from the University of Oregon Medical School in 1952 and made his way to Prineville in 1954.
He spent the next 40 years at Prineville Medical Clinic as a family doctor, often treating his patients and delivering babies at Pioneer Memorial Hospital.
He and his first wife, Betty, raised their four children, Greg, Dana, Martha and Laura, in Prineville.
"Medicine has been a great career for me, and I don't think I could have been as happy in any other career," he says. "I took care of people for over 40 years, and they became friends."
In his younger days, Thomas enjoyed playing tennis and then eventually took up walking in his neighborhood.
"I had a route there, a couple miles. I did that for years," Thomas says.
When his wife, Sarah, died in 2008, he did some volunteer work, but he needed something more.
"I guess I just needed something to keep me occupied," he says. "I was kinda lost, and I needed some contacts."
He knew the ladies who own the Prineville Athletic Club and decided to join.
"I like the people down here," he says. "I knew that I needed some activity, and this became a good social outlet for me."
He's gotten to know the PAC regulars, and many have become friends.
Nowadays, he no longer drives, so he depends on his friends Kim Landa and Sally Burger to usher him to and from the gym each day.
"He was our doctor when the kids were little. I've known him for years," Burger says. "I always told him I love to hear his voice because when I would be so frantic when the kids were sick, I'd call the doctor, and I knew everything was going to be alright."
Burger and Thomas get their 30 minutes of exercise each day — usually around 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Once in a while, he'll exercise on a Sunday.
Thomas steps onto "his" treadmill and walks about a mile and a half in 30 minutes.
He does have some medical problems — he's lost his sense of balance and equilibrium and is a bit unsteady — but that's why he likes the treadmill. He can hold on to the handles.
"It gives me the workout that I think I need, and it comes easily for me," Thomas says of the treadmill. "Some of these other machines, I probably couldn't do as well."
Goodman is thrilled to have Thomas as a regular gym customer. She used to work at the Prineville Medical Clinic with Thomas, and the mother of PAC co-owner Sharon McPhetridge was friends with Thomas.
"We go way back — way back," Goodman says of how long she's known Thomas.
She doesn't need to coach him or help him much, and she says he doesn't miss a beat.
"He's a walker. He likes to walk, so he sticks mostly to the treadmill," Goodman says. "That's his jam."
And, having been a doctor for four decades, Thomas understands the importance of regular exercise.
"It's well-recognized that exercise is a real positive for people," he says. "I would think almost anybody can do something. It doesn't have to be real vigorous, just some sort of activity that keeps the blood flowing."
Goodman and fellow club members are delighted that Thomas has chosen to get his daily dose of exercise at the PAC.
"He is truly the light of everybody's eyes," Goodman says. "We all aspire to be like him."
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