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From Sedentary to Race-ready

When Pastor Earl Janssen started cycling at age 52, he never dreamed that within a few years he’d be preparing to ride his bike across America. Now, he and his biking teammates seek to redefine expectations for older adults as they aim for a record-breaking race.

Pastor Earl Janssen
Our Shepherd Lutheran Church
Severna Park, MD
May 2015

In early 2009, I was thoroughly disgusted with my weight (190 lbs on a 5'5" frame) and overall health (52 years old with high blood pressure). I focused on a weight loss program and was able to lose 40 lbs. It was quite an effort. Thankfully, it only took a few months for my blood pressure to drop enough that I could stop taking medication.

Knowing I couldn't let my weight creep up like that again, I decided to get in shape. Running was out of the question — my knees couldn't handle it, and I had a bunion that made walking painful. Instead, I bought a bicycle in January 2010 and started riding.

At first, 30 minutes on the bike — about 8 miles — was more than enough. I came home exhausted and yet a little proud of the accomplishment after so many years of sedentary life. I set a goal of doing a 100-mile ride in October of that year, but managed to accomplish that distance by June. I joined a local cycling club that rode every weekday morning at 5:45 a.m. That became a perfect time to ride and I gradually got stronger and faster. I also joined Randonneurs USA, a long-distance cycling club.

In 2011, I volunteered to be a crew member for a friend who was racing in the Race Across America (RAAM) as a solo rider. What an inspirational experience! I decided at the end of the race that I wanted to at least qualify for this race by the time I was 60. My long distance rides increased. In 2011, I rode 235 miles in 24 hours. In 2013, I rode 385 miles in 2 days. In 2014, I rode 630 miles in 3 days. Over the past 5-1/2 years, I've ridden about 38,000 miles. That's more than 1 ½ times around the earth.

In late 2014, some friends and I began discussing the possibility of entering as a team in RAAM. We settled on a 4-person team consisting of a married couple (who hold records in long distance cycling races), another friend, and me. Together we formed RAAM Team Beau, Babe, & Buds. Our average age is 62.5 — I’m the youngest at 59; Nancy is the oldest at 65.

It is a little odd to be entering this race as I approach age 60. I'm in the best physical shape I've been in for at least 30 years, and maybe my entire life. Who knew that by starting at age 52 with a few miles a day on a bicycle, I could eventually become a world-class ultracyclist?

RAAM 2015 teams start June 20 in Oceanside, Calif., and ride across the country, ending in Annapolis, Md., just 10 miles from my home. Team Beau, Babe, & Buds plans to cover those 3,000 miles in under seven days — a record time — and we continue to redefine expectations for older adults.

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