Guest column: 80 is the new 50: Sequim bikers, a rare breed

By Daryl Knuth

For the Sequim Gazette

Have you seen them? Did they wave to you and say good morning? Did you maybe stop your car for them as they file out of the Sequim Community Church parking lot? The old people in spandex and colorful jerseys riding bikes. But just how old are they?

Calling themselves “Ancient and Honorable Cyclists,” this group of octogenarians are still riding a bike at age 80 or older. Some ride with the Spoke Folk group, some with Women on Wheels (WOW), and some simply ride on their own.

The group includes (by age): Dick Gritman (86), Stu Ferris (86), Henry Lingan (84), Dave Collins (84), Jerry Fagerlund (83), Tom Coonelly (82), Joanne Meinzen (82), David Neidhardt (81), Joel McGehee (81), Lisa Fagerlund (81), Bob Anundson (80) and Lee Bowan (80).

They all have some things in common, on and off the bike. Off the bike they have this fire and spirit to give back to the community and step up to lead rather than just follow. On the bike they all have a personal biking story and a lot of great memories. Finally, they all have various reasons about why they continue to ride.

Riding together

Many of these “Ancient” riders are part of assorted riding groups in our area.

Coonelly, along with Collins and Neidhardt, started the Spoke Folk biking group, born as a result of the Livestrong Challenge ride in Seattle in honor of cancer survivors — of whom Coonelly is one. Over the years, Spoke Folk has grown into a mature cycling club. They ride on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on various courses throughout the Sequim area.

Coonelly was also instrumental in starting the Tour de Lavender and was its ride director for the first four years.

Lisa Fagerlund is a “founding member” of the Women on Wheels (WOW) group, who also rides Tuesdays and Fridays either with WOW or other small groups or by herself.

Gritman gives back by helping to maintain the Olympic Discovery Trail, and Bowen volunteered with the Thursday crew for five years, building and maintaining the Adventure Cycling Trail.

Meinzen rides with the WOW group and has done three metric centuries (in 2016, 2017 and 2018) to raise money for multiple sclerosis research.

Oh, the memories

Each rider has a story describing how they started biking, why they still ride and remembering some of their best rides.

Coonelly recalls the “5 Boroughs” ride in New York City as his most memorable ride. Alongside his brother, sister, brother-in-law and son, he cycled all five boroughs: Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and finishing on Staten Island.

Collins remembers getting reacquainted with biking when he did a two-day, 90-mile from San Juan Capistrano to Mission Bay in San Diego, Calif., as a charity ride to support the American Lung Association. He enjoyed it so much he even decided to do it again the following year.

Gritman completed one self-contained ride of 1,500 miles from Pennsylvania to Tampa, Fla.. He also completed a supported ride of about 1,100 miles through New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri.

One of the toughest rides Lisa Fagerland experienced was a tour from Sequim on Highway 20 across the state to Spokane. Climbing two passes, biking through rain and wind, and riding long distances each day made the tour a challenging and memorable experience.

Jerry Fagerlund has some interesting biking stories. He’s cycled in Germany through the beautiful Bavarian countryside, a two-week Easter tour of northern Italy, from the Austrian/Italian border to Venice, a multi-day trip to Salzburg , and a Four-day solo cycle tour in southern Scotland.

Bowen has been biking since he was a kid delivering the Pittsburgh Gazette newspaper. His breakout ride was doing the Seattle-to-Portland event that helped him rediscover how much he loved biking, His favorite bike trip, however, was riding from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C., “a truly memorable adventure.”

Keep riding

So why do they continue to ride and what keeps them going?

“I ride for the pleasure of riding and love the companionship of the Spoke Folk group,” Coonelly says. “I love these guys (gals included); we are family.”

Meinzen says she loves the freedom of bike riding, “and that I can go much further than I can when walking so I get to see more of the beautiful area.”

Jerry Fagerlund says over the past five decades bicycling has been an integral part of his recreational life — outlasting racquetball, backpacking, downhill and Nordic skiing.

Lisa Fagerlund says she loves a number of aspects of riding, including “the freedom of movement, the relatively pain free way of getting an aerobic workout, the friendship of other riders, and the beauty of the environment in which we are privileged to ride.” She adds, “Sequim is a paradise for cycling.”

Collins, at age 84, says that along with the physical benefits of cycling, he finds the social aspect to be equally rewarding.

“The folks that have joined the group over the years are simply a great bunch of people and I enjoy their companionship,” he says. “Additionally, riding as a group provides a discipline that I probably wouldn’t have if I were riding alone.”

So how long can he continue riding?

“Only God, who has blessed me with good health, knows the answer to that question, Collins says. “Obviously, my days of riding will come to an end at some point. But for now, as the saying goes, I just ‘keep on keeping on.’”

By example

So what can we learn from these ancient ones? First, they all come from an era where they believe that you can’t just take, you have a responsibility to contribute to the community in which you live.

Second, their biking stories demonstrate their love of life and adventure and all these ancient ones have led a healthy and athletic life so they could complete those amazing adventures on a bike.

Third, they just seem to love the camaraderie and fellowship that comes from riding with a group or even the solitude and quiet beauty that comes from riding by one’s self. They simply love cycling in such a beautiful area as the Olympic Peninsula.

If this article has inspired you to do some cycling, remember that optimizing benefits and minimizing risks are important to enjoying cycling as an elderly individual.

Also, beyond that there are benefits of continuing to cycle into your 80s. Stay tuned, however, to the Sequim Gazette, because that’s the topic of an entirely different article.