CTS Coach Tracey Drews coaches cyclists of all ages, but over time has specialized in coaching senior cyclists, especially cyclists over 65. Many of the athletes she coaches range in age from 70-90 years old, and several compete – and win – age group events and USA Cycling National Championships.
Cycling and strength training are perhaps the best combination of exercises for aging athletes. Cycling is easy on joints because it’s not weight-bearing and you can use gear ratios to reduce the required force per pedal stroke. These factors allow senior athletes to ride longer, including periods of moderate to high intensity, than they might be able to sustain for other cardiovascular exercises. Strength training helps senior athletes retain muscle mass and counteract sarcopenia, as well as maintain bone density (or at least slow the decline).
In the piece below, Tracey reveals the traits and habits that keep cyclists over 65 going, and highlights some of the inspirational athletes she works with.
I have been fortunate since 2006 to work as a CTS Coach with many of the most talented and brightest coaches I know. I have also had the privilege and honor to coach and guide some of the most talented, health-conscious, competitive and durable athletes I know. “Durable”, you ask? I say that because no matter their chronological age, cyclists over 65 are all about squeezing every bit of “life” into their years. Chris Carmichael addressed this in the following post: 5 Ways to add Life to your years. All those things still hold true today. However, I would like to add a few more to the list and highlight a few of my athletes who embrace these techniques.
“Just don’t stop”
At 89 years old, Fred Schmid still races a full calendar, including almost all the USA Cycling National Championship events, sans track and BMX. He sets a full race calendar every year to ensure he is focused and organized on a series of goals for his training. One of his primary goals, though, is not specifically to compete. The overarching goal is to “just not stop”.
In 2022, Fred was finally able to add the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb, a 27.2-mile uphill bike challenge starting at 7,000 feet and ascending to 14,130 feet above sea level, to his list of accomplishments. This has been an elusive goal for Fred. For several years he was thwarted by unsafe weather conditions and equipment issues. This year was Fred’s opportunity to “grab the brass ring” on the event, all because he would “just not stop”.
Surround yourself with youth (relatively speaking)
Over the course of Fred’s race career, he has won 38 USA Cycling National Championships (and counting). Besides a genetic gift he chooses not to waste, and his mantra to “just not stop”, Fred has something else going for him. He has Whitney, a youthful 70-something training partner, as well as very supportive and youthful wife, Suzanne. Which leads me to another way senior athletes add life to their years. They surround themselves with relatively younger athletes.
Every time Fred goes on a training ride with Whitney he is challenged physically and mentally. He revels in the camaraderie and conversations as they recover between harder training efforts. Suzanne, in my humble observation, is Fred’s secret weapon. When not racing herself, Suzanne helps organize their travels to and from events. She even acts as a soigneur on event days, including driving the chase car during Garmin Unbound 200 for the last several years! She organizes Fred’s doctor appointments when they are home in between events, and even finds time to ride with Fred on recovery days!
Step out of your comfort zone
Jan Lewis, 78, is a perfect example of the next way to add life to your years… try something new and step out of your comfort zone. Jan became a CTS Athlete in 2009 to prepare for a cross country cycling trip in 2010, which she successfully completed. She enjoyed the cross-country ride so much she went back a few years later and completed three more trips! During the time we’ve worked together, Jan has completed numerous multi-day rides in the US and abroad. Not only does she enjoy the riding, but also cultivating lasting friendships and memories.
As we were setting goals for 2022, Jan said she wanted to “mix it up” and step out of her comfort zone. She wanted to race! And thus began Jan’s “racing career”. She started out with time trials (lowest risk) and then progressed to age group road racing through the National Senior Games program. Jan medaled in both of her inaugural road races in Fort Lauderdale this year! Jan elevated her passion for cycling and kept it fresh and exciting by stepping out of her comfort zone.
Find new ways to do what you love
At 82, Bob Cole found a way to continue riding bikes. This is in spite of shoulder surgery and low back problems that left him with severe arthritis and the inability to ride in an upright posture. Bob exemplifies my third way cyclists over 65 can add years to your life: changing your focus and find another way to do what you love.
Prior to 2012 when Bob became a CTS Athlete, he had completed a solo, unsupported 19-day, 1500-mile bike ride on a Sears 10-speed bike; spent one year commuting by bike 48 miles round trip to work each day; completed a one-day 200-mile charity ride, and completed the Assault on Mt Mitchell (102miles/10,000ft) road. It is no wonder Bob’s shoulders no longer wanted to support him!
Yet, Bob still wanted to train, ride and race bikes, which he now does with his recumbent road trike and a fat-tire mountain trike. He competes annually in time trials in the local senior games program and participates in numerous charity rides on the road trike. But his new thrill is his mountain trike, better known as “Fatty”. He has been able to explore all the mountain bike trails in and around southwestern North Carolina, as well as compete in gravel races in South and North Carolina.
Handle medical challenges proactively
My final exemplar for high performance senior cyclists is Sue Henkhaus, who recently turned 70. Sue was sidelined for several years because of multiple surgeries on her left foot. At the behest of her husband, Ron, who is an avid competitive cyclist, Sue became a CTS Athlete in April 2021 to incorporate cycling into her extensive rehabilitation program. Although initially limited to indoor cycling and Zwift, Sue quickly gained the confidence and fitness to consider riding outdoors again after the long absence.
Just as she gained momentum for the transition to outdoor riding, a long-ago diagnosed cardiac disorder required immediate attention. In May 2022, Sue received a cardiac stent. Barely missing a beat (pun intended), Sue was back on the bike within five days of the procedure with a bolstered energy level and dramatically improved VO2 max.
Sue is an example of my final way cyclists over 65 can add life to your years… meet medical challenges head-on and get back as soon as you can to what you enjoy most. Since May, Sue has completed one metric century and several outdoor rides with Ron, her two cycling sons, AND her ten-year old grandson. This “Cycling Matriarch” has no intentions of slowing down and has set a stellar example for the youngest generation to follow.
Takeaways (for athletes of all ages)
For every Fred, Jan, Bob and Sue, there are additional cyclists over 65 out there with similar stories. They’re adding life to their years and inspiring others to do the same, so if you need motivation at any age, remember:
- Just Don’t Stop
- Surround yourself with youth
- Try something new and step out of your comfort zone
- Change your focus and find another way to do what you love
- Meet medical challenges head-on and get back as soon as you can to what you enjoy most
By Tracey Drews,
CTS Premier Coach