Opinion | Becoming a Cyclist In Her Sixties Changed My Mom’s Life

Opinion | Becoming a Cyclist In Her Sixties Changed My Mom’s Life

Likewise, my mother’s biking adventures served as their own flashing screen. Every pedal uphill was a subliminal shout that she was strong. Every heart skip on a downhill told her she was brave and fun. Every new route she planned showed she was capable. She was being immersed in implicit feedback that upended what she (and others) had been told one could and could not do or be at this age.

Most older women don’t join bike groups. Instead, we begin to pull back on physical activities, risk-taking or novel pursuits. Too dangerous for our failing body and mind, we are told in ways both subliminal and overt, and we believe it. But what if danger is found in failing to pursue exhilaration, exploration and physical vitality?

Unwittingly my mother knew: These attributes don’t imperil us. They protect us.

Activating exhilaration, exploration and physical vitality will be different for each of us. In my own quest to understand healthy aging I met a 93-year-old hiker, a 74-year-old BMX biker, an 80-year-old scuba diver and a slew of boogie boarders in their 60s, 70s and 80s. I walked on the wing of a plane at 3,000 feet in the air. But I also went bird-watching. Adventure, it turns out, is in the eye of the beholder and can be had by almost all of us despite physical restrictions, financial constraints or limited backcountry know-how.

Over and over these women told me in different ways: Pick an outdoor activity, one that will electrify and engage, because it will change your life. To those who warn you against such foolishness, remind them of what Joan Captain, a player on one of San Diego’s senior women’s soccer leagues, told a journalist when she was 72: “People say, oh, that’s so dangerous, you know, you should take it easy. And I say, well, you see that couch over there? The couch will kill you.”

My mother stopped cycling only as she approached 80. She had begun to feel unsteady on her bike; she was soon diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. At some point, then, the messaging has some truth. But this isn’t disheartening. This is just one more reason to embrace everything now. I’m sure my mother would still be pedaling if not for this stroke of bad luck. Instead, she gets outside any way she can, often on a walk around her neighborhood. On a recent amble, she waxed nostalgic, but not about her youth. “I wish I was 60 again,” she mused, and we slowly continued down the sidewalk.

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