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Biking proves to be age elixir

Claremont resident James “Jim” Beasom III woke up on the morning of his recent 90th birthday and did what he has done nearly every day for more than a decade: He embarked on a 20-mile ride along the foothills on his bicycle. He finished his exercise before many Claremonters were even out of their beds.

Picking up speed around the local hills has become a staple for the nonagenarian, who was one of the founding members of the Claremont Senior Bike Group (CSBG). The retired surgeon may be growing older, but he has no plan to change his routine. Where some fear age, Dr. Beasom welcomes it.

“It keeps me young,” he said of staying active and riding alongside his CSBG cohorts. “All the people I bike with are young, so I never think of myself as old.”

Maybe he has located the fountain of youth, speculates fellow CSBG founder Larry Scheetz, who asserts that, to him, his cycling friend doesn’t seem a day over 60.

“The most noticeable trait is his youthfulness. He moves and acts like someone much younger, because he takes really good care of himself,” Mr. Scheetz said. “He golfs a really low score and carries his clubs on his back rather than use a cart, it’s good for his young bones.”

Yes, he does still golf—and is proud of his ability to hit the ball 220 yards—and is happy to add any skills he can bring to the table for the CSBG. He feels he has found his niche, so much so that if he goes more than a few days off the bike, he begins to go through withdrawals. It’s  clinically proven, the doctor assures.

“If I go 2 or 3 rainy days without it I feel very edgy and uncomfortable,” he explains.

Finding his stride

Growing up, Dr. Beasom wasn’t much of an athlete. He was agile, but he admits he didn’t even make the cut to play on his high school football team. When he made the decision to pursue a career in medicine, he all but kissed any potential athletic prowess goodbye.

“I never had the time,” Dr. Beasom said. “I always worked 60 to 70 hours a week when I had my practice.”

It wasn’t even until age 60 that Dr. Beasom started to bike. He was enjoying a day at the beach with his wife, Tracy, when she suggested they rent a couple of bikes and ride along the coastline. He obliged.

“We rented one of those old rickety bikes and she enjoyed it so much,” Dr. Beasom recalled.

A doting husband, Dr. Beasom found a way to nurture his wife’s newfound love for biking as a couple. While looking through a magazine, he learned about Eurobike, a bicycling group that travels around Europe. It wasn’t hard to convince her. They signed up, bought themselves bikes and started training. To date, Dr. Beasom and his wife have biked most of Europe. Some of their treasured memories are cycling through small villages in Italy, stopping to rest in old manors converted into lodging for about 15 people, perfect for their bike group.

However, those biking trips were only once a year, and Dr. Beasom acknowledged that after returning from his trips, the biking usually “petered out.” It wasn’t until Dr. Beasom was in his 70s that biking took a more serious hold on him. Until that point, he was busy working as a surgeon helping others with their joints. He was, at one time, chief of staff of Pomona Valley Hospital and was also one of the early southern California surgeons to perform artificial joint replacements. Adding biking into his regimen helped him keep up with the long surgery hours.

“I knew that exercise was important and that biking was an excellent form because it’s easy on the joints and you can do it at any age,” he explained.

As Dr. Beasom cut back on hours at his practice, he began adding more time on the bike.

“If you want to increase your strength and endurance, you’ve got to work out and you’ve got to put in the hours,” he said. “You’ve got to do it forever. You can’t quit.”

The key is in finding the right type of exercise. Some love the gym or the tennis court, but Dr. Beasom found it boring. Cycling was the one sport that kept him engaged, even when riding alone.

“There is something calming about cruising through the neighborhood, looking at the plants and flowers and trees, and enjoying the breeze blowing on you,” Dr. Beasom said. “Runners always have this pained expression.”

While he enjoys riding alone or with his wife, it was an added benefit when Mr. Scheetz proposed that his friend help start a bike group in the late 1990s: “I wanted to be able to keep up,” he said. “It really pushed me.”

Fellow biker Dorothy Elwell, current president of the CSBG, assures her friend doesn’t need much pushing.

“He outrides me!” Ms. Elwell said. “He is strong, consistent and delightful. And if we have any medical problems, we have him.”

Though he is now 90, Dr. Beasom says he hasn’t seen his skill level change, mostly because he is consistent with his exercise. The doctor insists other seniors can do the same. The science proves it, according to the doctor.

“Years ago we thought once you reach 65 your muscle strength goes downhill. Now we know, with exercise, you can maintain your strength well into your 90s. People in their 70s can start to work out and gradually build up strength and do well,” Dr. Beasom says, adding, “If you don’t do something that requires balance, you lose it. Biking is great for stimulating the inner ear and helping with balance.”

To this day, Dr. Beasom continues to lead the Monday and Wednesday morning rides with his trademark, “Tally ho!” And if he isn’t there to do it, the group recites it for him, Ms. Elwell says.

“There’s a ride for everyone,” he assures. Dr. Beasom prefers riding with the lower level, but that isn’t to say that he is any less equipped to take on the Claremont Hills. Padua and Mt. Baldy Road are regular jaunts. It’s about finding what’s right and sticking with it. For Dr. Beasom, it’s a love affair with the bicycle.

“Going down Mt. Baldy at 50 miles an hour, you just don’t feel old,” he said with a smile. “That’s part of enjoying life, not feeling old.”

Find out more about the CSBG at www.claremontseniorbikegroup.org.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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