Gregorio Zertuche bends down and ties a knot in his right shoelace on a bright, crisp autumn morning in Fort Worth alongside the Trinity River.
He has swapped the military-issued boots he wore 70 years ago for running shoes. Zertuche doesn’t tie them any differently, though.
Nor does he let his age — Zertuche turned 88 in August — affect him any differently than it did when he was a wide-eyed 18-year-old enlisting in the U.S. Air Force just because he wanted to get out of Corpus Christi, Texas.
Zertuche walks 6 miles on the Trinity Trails River Park Trail every day. Afterward, he lifts weights or rides his stationary bike a few miles.
On Veterans Day, he’ll do the exact same thing, he said.
“My service doesn’t define me,” Zertuche said. “It’s how I treat people and how I try to live a full life.”
‘I want to live as long as I can’
Zertuche was born in 1935 in Corpus Christi.
“I lived a poor life. We didn’t ever have anything to eat … we didn’t have a TV, a car, a radio, we didn’t have nothin’,” Zertuche said. “My mom had eight kids; two of them … died of malnutrition.”
Back then, he said, he had no idea what malnutrition was.
“Now I know,” Zertuche said. “I mean, I want to live as long as I can.”
His family’s history is why he’s so obsessed with health. In addition to his daily walks and workouts, Zertuche almost exclusively eats fruits, vegetables and herbs. He talks extensively about visits to the doctor.
Beverly Belew, a 75-year-old Fort Worth resident, talks to Zertuche whenever she sees him along the trail, before eventually passing him.
“He talks so much about his health, what he eats, how much he walks,” Belew said. “He’s so diligent about his health. … It’s like, wow.”
Health wasn’t a priority growing up — surviving was, Zertuche said
“I wanted to get out of there and get in the Air Force,” he said.
In training and during service, he was taught about proper nutrition and conditioning.
He’s been doing what he learned ever since.
‘Lived a good life’
After he finishes tying the knot on his right shoe, Zertuche picks up his walking stick and holds it in his left hand. He keeps it in that hand the entire 6 miles, never letting it touch the paved trail.
“It’s here for insurance, mainly,” Zertuche said.
Though he’s prideful, he said, of not using the stick, he noted that he’s lived his entire life striving not to take unnecessary risks.
“I’ve lived a good life; at least I think it has been,” Zertuche said. “I think I’ve been pretty successful.”
He served in the Air Force for 22 years, splitting time between Bernalillo County, New Mexico, and Taiwan during the Vietnam War.
He then worked as an aircraft metals technology specialist at Lockheed Martin in Taiwan for 35 years, making frequent business trips to Fort Worth, where he later moved and owned a dry cleaning business and a hair salon.
His service in the Air Force was a springboard for careers he couldn’t have dreamed about as a young boy in Corpus Christi. The connections he made with the Taiwanese people while in the Air Force got him a job with Lockheed Martin, he said.
“I loved it down there and things went smoothly,” Zertuche said about his time running a parts distribution center for Lockheed. “I was treated like family by the Taiwanese. … I was invited to weddings, birthdays, funerals, you name it.”
Return to Fort Worth
When he had enough of the South Pacific, he returned to somewhat familiar territory: Fort Worth.
With the money he made at Lockheed, Zertuche bought a property on Alta Mere Drive and turned it into a dry cleaning business.
Mr. Z $1.25 Cleaners was in business for 16 years, earning itself a decent reputation, Zertuche said. After shutting off the steamers and closing the doors for good, he owned a hair salon for a few years.
Zertuche married at 18, and he and his wife raised three kids, now all in their 60s.
A busy man, he didn’t start walking 6 miles daily until 2019, after he closed his hair salon and retired for good.
His daughter Jenette Zertuche said her dad is one of the more motivated individuals she’s ever known.
And while others may think it’s a little crazy, she loves how he’s taking care of his health.
She wouldn’t have him any other way. Neither would his five grandchildren, she said.
“We’re doing whatever he wants to do on Veterans Day,” Jenette said. “It’s how he’ll have it.”
Matthew Sgroi is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.