Cycling Without Age Puts a Smile on Everyone’s Face

by | Nov 28, 2023 | Featured Nonprofits

Edna donned her fanciest blouse and a bright blazer in anticipation of her favorite activity. Perched on the half-wall to await her chariot she kept her eyes glued to the entryway.

At 89, she felt giddy as a schoolgirl.

She heard the trishaw before she saw it. Actually, she heard the pilot-cyclist whistling a happy tune as he peddled closer to her. Her knight in shining armor.

John Seigel Boettner, chief enchantment officer of Cycling Without Age, stopped in front of Edna and gallantly extended his hand to help her climb onto the front seat of his trishaw. She beamed with delight.

She actually wore a disguise once to sneak two rides into the same day.

“I love bringing joy to older folks,” said Boettner. “This joy is guaranteed and reciprocal, giving as much to the pilot as to the riding partners.”

Loneliness is an epidemic.

U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, says loneliness has become an epidemic in the U.S. especially with older adults. He reports that 50% of American adults say they experience loneliness, most of those are elderly.

According to the National Council on Aging, social isolation and loneliness hinder good health, putting older adults at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, depression and even death.”

Bicycle magic cures loneliness.

Cycling Without Age (CWA) is a worldwide movement that aims to provide joy and vitality to older adults through the magic of the bicycle. Through the simple act of sharing a bike ride, it weaves a sense of community and gathers unique and invaluable stories, unlocked only by the wind and wheels.

Hundreds of older adults in our community are isolated and experience significant loneliness. CWA helps to set them free if only for an hour each week.

“Many of our members are living with mild to advanced cognitive challenges,” said Kathryn Westland, executive director of Friendship Center which provides day care for older adults. “They look forward to the friendly CWA pilots showing up to take them on their cycling adventure.

“It lets them experience being outside and moving with the wind in their hair which many of them have not felt in months and years.”

Senior facilities throughout Santa Barbara participate.

There are nine facilities that the volunteer CWA pilots visit to take seniors for bike outings including Heritage House, Mariposa, Mission Villa, Friendship Center, Maravilla, Valle Verde, Garden Court, Hillside and Alexander Gardens.

Weekly rides treat two “riding partners” at a time to a one-hour ride around the neighborhood.

“It gets them outside under the sky with fresh air, trees and the ocean,” said Melissa Cunningham, CWA manager. “Many are in memory care units and no longer have language skills, but they relish every minute.”

As the pilot pedals the bike through the invigorating breezes with the two riding partners snugly buckled into the front bench, they wave and greet everyone even dogs. Instant smiles reward their efforts at every turn.

“Joy is guaranteed and puts a smile on your face,” said Boettner. “When is the last time someone waved to you in your car?”

Sweet stories from senior riders.

The seniors often share bits of their life stories with the pilots as they ride along.

“During the war, the boys would come ashore for dances at the Armory or the Vets Hall,” Margie reminisced. “I was only 16 and the rules said you had to be 18 to go so I just faked my I.D.”

Margie eloped to New Orleans to marry her Marine. They moved back to Santa Barbara and raised a family on The Mesa.

“My grandfather rebuilt the Old Mission after the earthquake, and after that he built the Granada Theater,” said Cheryl. “My dad took over the company. Do you know Earl Warren Showgrounds? That was one of his projects.”

One bright August day, Boettner gave Hubert and his wife, Marie, a ride through a 5k course. Hubert was a 17-time Boston Marathon runner who developed a debilitating neurodegenerative disease, confining him to a wheelchair.

Thanks to Boettner Hubert completed one final run where he proudly wore a few of his Boston Marathon medallions. The grateful marathon runner will be forever grateful for the thrill of moving quickly through the streets with the sun on his face.

“I always thank the CWA pilots for the joy they bring to our wonderful residents,” said Rev. Edgar A. Mohorko, activities manager at Heritage House. “To see the smiles and great joy of our amazing residents is inspiring.”

Financial donations fund the program.

“We are always inviting financial donations so we can maintain the trishaws in good working condition and purchase new ones,” said Boettner. “The theme for our fundraising campaign this year is Tithings of Great Joy.

“We hope readers will click this link to include CWA in their holiday giving this year. Joy is guaranteed.”