Age is just a number for 3 ‘RTR’ cyclists
At age 62, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians cyclist Jan Smith is the oldest rider to take part in this year’s “Remember the Removal” bicycle ride. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians cyclist Lori Owl, 47, right, says she appreciated the support of the younger riders during the three-week “Remember the Removal” bike ride. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians cyclist Bo Taylor, 48, completes the “Remember the Removal” bike ride on his second attempt after suffering a serious injury in 2017 during a training ride. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
COMPETITION, Mo. – As the 2018 “Remember the Removal” cyclists made their way to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and the end of their three-week journey, one may have noticed the riders’ various ages.
Although Cherokee Nation cyclists range in ages 16 to 24, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians gears its “RTR” bike ride towards improving its citizens’ health. The ages for EBCI cyclists this year ranged from 17 to 62.
After finishing day 12 of riding, the older EBCI riders reflected on the nearly 1,000-mile trek to Oklahoma and why they wanted to take it.
At age 62, Jan Smith said she took on the challenge to honor her ancestors. She said as an EBCI citizen she receives benefits that help her, and for that, her ancestors deserved some appreciation.
“There’s people that paid for that (benefits). They’re the ones that struggled, and if they hadn’t been resilient then I wouldn’t be able to reap those benefits I have,” Smith said. “It’s just a small, small way to pay them back.”
Like all cyclists who make the journey, a lot of preparation goes in months before the ride begins to ensure their physical endurance can stand against the strain they place on their bodies. Smith knew her age would work against her, so she started training early.
“The first training ride I went to was like 10 miles, and I did terrible, and I thought I have to get in better shape. So I started training and eating better,” she said. “I probably worked out five to six days a week. It takes a lot of hard work.”
The consecutive days of riding for hours at a time have been hard on Smith, but she said seeing some of the significant sites along the way have been worth it.
EBCI cyclist Lori Owle said she rode ride to learn about the Trail of Tears history firsthand. However, the 47-year-old admitted the physical aspect has been difficult.
“Before each ride I get knots in my stomach because of the unknown, but once you complete the day you get a sense of completion,” she said.
On day nine, a deer hit Owle and knocked off of her bike. After three hours in the emergency room and three stitches in her finger, she was back on her bike the next day.
She said being one of the “older riders” was hard, but that the younger riders were a “blessing.”
“My main thought was it was us older riders that would need to watch over the young riders and make sure they don’t get hurt, but then it was me that got hurt,” she said. “They take good care of me, and I think the ride has developed patience in them. It’s really good to know that the younger generation has that kind of compassion.”
For EBCI cyclist Bo Taylor participating in the ride had been a goal he worked toward for two years. The 48-year-old was selected for the 2017 ride, but a training accident two days before the ride began left him with nine broken ribs. He said he was determined to ride this year.
“What I’ve always said about Cherokees is that we always get back up no matter what happens,” Taylor said.
Once his ribs healed, he trained on spin bikes and eventually got back on his bike.
He said his favorite moment this year was climbing the Cumberland Gap in eastern mountainous Tennessee without stopping. “For an old dude, knowing I can still do things is good. Two years ago I couldn’t do what I am doing now, so it’s been an awesome journey. I’ve found out a lot about myself.”