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Cycling beyond age


WORLD Radio - Cycling beyond age

Helping senior citizens enjoy the open road requires organization and special bikes

Senior citizens enjoying a trishaw ride Photo by David Yen

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, June 14th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: riding a bike.

You never forget how, they say, but as you get older, it gets harder. For seniors in nursing homes, or people with health problems, it’s hard to get out and about.

But one organization is working to reduce their isolation through bike rides. Here’s WORLD Reporter Anna Johansen Brown.

SOUND: [People chatting and waiting]

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN: So how long have you been looking forward to this ride?

MARIKA: A week.

DAVID YEN: Since the last one.

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN: About 15 people are sitting outside Sunrise Senior Living. They’re all waiting under the white pillared entryway, lined up in wheelchairs and walkers

SOUND: [Ringing bell]

RIDER: Hey, I recognize that lady!

Alice Fellers pulls up wearing a neon yellow vest and riding a bike, but not a regular bike. It’s called a trishaw, and it has three wheels—two in front, one behind. Tucked between the front wheels is a cushioned bench seat, almost like a carriage. That’s where the passengers sit, feet tucked up on a footrest, with nothing to block their view. The biker, or pilot, pedals from behind.

BIKER: All right you ready? all right here we go! [bell ringing] Let's go, let's go!

Fellers is one of 40 volunteers with the group Cycling Without Age. They give rides every week at multiple assisted living homes and community centers.

When Greg Glover first heard about the program, he knew he wanted to be part of it.

GREG GLOVER: I thought, this is exactly what my mother would have loved. Because at some point, she, she loved walking and being outside, but then she couldn't do that. And so then she really couldn't do anything.

Cycling Without Age started in Denmark about a decade ago. Glover launched the McHenry chapter here in northern Illinois back in 2019.

The goal is to reduce isolation and loneliness for older adults. Get them connected, in a small way, to the community they live in. When Glover gives a ride, he always waves at people he passes on the street.

GLOVER: You know, it just brings a smile to your face. Some big burly truck comes along with a you know, big burly truck driver, and I’ll wave and he just waves right back.

Glover says those encounters are good for the community, too. Not just the people getting a ride.

GLOVER: Because they're seeing that, hey, these are real people, you know, they're they're still part of our community.

ALICE FELLERS: We have a special route around the neighborhood.

Alice Fellers pulls out of the Sunrise parking lot and heads out onto the residential streets.

FELLERS: I think I'm out of shape. I need to play more pickleball!

MaryAnne and MaryJean are the passengers for this ride. They’ve had hips and knees replaced and neither one has ridden a bike in years and years.

MARYANNE: Hey, good morning, or it's afternoon, good morning!

FELLERS: you got a couple of wild ones here!

There’s one particular house that MaryAnne and MaryJean are keen to see, every time they go out for one of these rides. It’s a new house being built. So every time they ride past, they like to see the progress the builders have made.

MARYANNE: Oh see the side, they’re doing the sides. The brick.

One house has dogs that always run out to bark as they ride past.

MARYANNE: Oh, the dog is here. laughs] I’m waving to a dog.

SOUND: [Dog barking]

They’re small things, but significant for the people getting a ride.

FELLERS: Those little things mean so much to them to get out and see those things and we don't we don't think about that. We take it for granted Yeah. Until you know it's gone and you don't have the ability to get out and see all that.

Okay, we’re back! We’re coming around the mountain as we come.

The rides only last about 15 minutes. But the passengers will come back with huge smiles on their faces. Sometimes, Alice Fellers will hear from the staffers at assisted living centers. They tell her things like, it’s the first time we’ve seen that person smile.

FELLERS: It's so rewarding to to see how much it means to these people to get out.

But it’s also hard, helping people who are older, who have health issues, memory problems.

FELLERS: We have some memory care places and you might take someone out. And initially, they get confused. They're not sure what they're why they're out there where they are.

Fellers often sees the same people, ride after ride. Until, one day, someone isn’t there.

FELLERS: And then you come in, some people are no longer here, here, they passed on.

It gives you a sense of your own mortality.

FELLERS: Sometimes it's hard for them not having the freedom that they once had, you know, and you start realizing that well, we're probably going to be there at some point in our lives, too.

But it also is a reminder that although these seniors don’t have the mobility they once did, they still have value.

Greg Glover says he gets a lot out of his conversations with passengers.

GLOVER: They're still really vibrant people, you know, that hasn't really changed. They all want to engage in conversation, they all want have something to offer. They still want to live their life.

AUDIO: [singing] They’ll be coming around the mountain when they come.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen Brown in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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