Live To Ride

By John Freely


Guys your age probably shouldn’t be running anyway,” the orthopedist said to the 55-year-old, with the nodding agreement of the medical students in the conference room. “You might want to consider something less stressful, like swimming or riding.” Grudgingly, I accepted the news since my knee hurt so badly. Growing up in Brooklyn does not present many opportunities to swim. So, being neither a particularly competent nor confident swimmer, I decided to ride instead.

Philadelphia, where I was then living, is a good running and riding city. The path around the Schuylkill River is an ideal venue. If that is not sufficient, the path leads all the way out to Valley Forge—a 35-mile round trip. I bought my first bike (since the Columbia Cruiser as a kid), a TREK hybrid, and began riding daily. I quickly loved riding. The absence of the pounding of running and no lateral movement in pedaling proved to be an excellent therapy for my knee. So I rode and rode.

My wife, Ann, and I retired in 2006 and moved to Maumelle. By now I was on a road bike and quickly discovered the great riding opportunities here in Arkansas. Kudos to this area for the NLR River Trail, the Big Dam Bridge and Two Rivers Park, to name but a few.

Life is full of wrinkles. In 2009 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and treated at CARTI/St. Vincent. Forty-three radiation treatments can slow you down, but it doesn’t prevent you from riding—so I rode and rode.

Ann had already been volunteering at CARTI and told me about the Tour de Rock. I was enough back in shape to try it and loved it! I rode and Ann volunteered at the Rose City rest stop. Ann, having been a runner for several decades, was unhappy with the lack of enthusiasm of some of the other volunteers at the rest stop. She convinced me we could do a better job. In 2010 we took over sponsorship of the rest stop and have been sponsoring it for the last six years. It is great fun to enthusiastically greet hundreds of riders on those hot, humid, sometimes rainy Saturdays.

More about those life’s wrinkles: I had a great riding year this past one—well over 3,000 miles. For a 72-year-old guy, that’s not too bad. Over a year ago, my primary physician had detected a heart murmur, and an echocardiogram indicated a bicuspid aortic valve with moderate stenosis. (I have never particularly aspired to be part of the 1 percent—but I made it since only 1 percent of people have bicuspid aortic valves—the other 99 percent have tricuspid ones.) Over the next year the stenosis had progressed from moderate to severe. My cardiologist felt that since I was in good shape (for a 72-year-old—thanks, riding!) he recommended going ahead with replacement, instead of waiting for symptoms to occur. He assured me that I could be back on the bike in 4 to 5 weeks. I’m holding him to it!

Now when I call the Hogs, I can say it is truly from the heart since I now have a porcine valve in there!

I fully expect to ride in this year’s tour. Ann and I will once again be hosting the Rose City rest stop. We hope to see all of you riders there—if you don’t stop, give a wave and a shout-out.

There is not an organization more deserving of our support than CARTI. Money raised at Tour de Rock helps CARTI offer a wide range of patient assistance programs, which greatly benefit cancer patients and their families. Please join me in supporting CARTI at the Tour de Rock.

For more information about Tour de Rock, visit