A Publication of WTVP

Most people look toward retirement with big plans…to relax. But for Princeton native Don Schiff, retirement brought on a new kind of work.

Having retired from a banking career in 2006, just a “tad-bit ahead of the baby boomers,” Schiff took up recreational bicycling as a means to stay busy amidst his new, wide-open schedule.

“I’ve always said, ‘When I retire, I’ll need something to keep me active—something to look forward to,’” he explains. “Sure, working day in and day out is drudgery sometimes, but it keeps your mind busy and your body busy,” he says. “I’ve worked hard for 50 years, but if I’m going to enjoy my retirement, I have to eat right, exercise properly and stay busy!”

Clocking some 3,500 recreational miles on bike in his first year “off,” Schiff managed to do just that. But in 2008—only his third year off the banking circuit—he discovered the sheer thrill of racing. That year, at the ripe age of 68, he completed 21 races and earned himself 18 medals. And that was just the start.

For the Love of the Sport
“[Biking’s] a challenge against yourself,” Schiff explains. “You set your own pace, and if you don’t make it, you have no one but yourself to blame.” He describes biking as a natural high of sorts—“like having three martinis,” without the inevitable headache. And that high keeps him coming back for more.

Years past his initial discovery of the sport, Schiff’s training program now involves coaches and “gut-wrenching” bike workouts, weight lifting, racquetball and cross-training. Most weeks, he averages about 15 hours of training—a rigorous schedule which he admits is not for everyone. But he stresses it gets easier as you go.

“I must admit, I’m envious of the guys I race against who have been doing it for 25 years [or more],” he laughs. “Biking is like any sport…as you get better at it, your body adapts. These guys… just beat the socks off of me because of that adaptation!”

Getting Started
It’s not always about the race. Now 72, Schiff promotes bicycling as a low-impact sport that all ages can enjoy, as well as a way to bond with family and friends that’s easy on the pocketbook. Not to mention the vast health benefits.

“It’s easy on the body—there’s no huge impact on the knees or ankles like jogging. A lot of folks I know had to give up jogging. I had to, too, for my weak ankles, but I can manage on the bike.”

But for beginners, Schiff doesn’t push. First, he suggests, just get outside, even “if it’s just walking. A mind is like a garden: if you don’t keep it active…it’ll go to weeds.”

Bicycle racing is more like soccer than football or basketball, Schiff explains, because with biking, you never stop. “Your heart rate might go up to three times your resting heart rate. You can’t let up—if you do, you’re going to lose,” he explains. “It’s high-intensity.”

Getting there is a gradual process, and Schiff recommends starting out slowly. “You can’t walk out some weekend and become a racer,” he says. “Do you have a bicycle in the garage? You don’t need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars. Find a bike and…go a few blocks, then maybe a mile or two, and just see how you enjoy it. If you enjoy it…and you find yourself doing it three or four times a week, then treat yourself to a nice bike.”

Racing and Beyond
With the support of his wife and kids, Schiff’s passion led him to take first place last year for his age group and ability in the Mid American Time Trial Series—a long-standing, Illinois- and Wisconsin-based 18-event cycling series. He was also third place overall in Rider of the Year Season Overall Competition points, a NASCAR-like system that awards points for wins throughout the year.

Such feats require an increased training schedule, says Schiff, which is far from easy. “Sometimes you’re out there and you’re going up a hill…and it’s like ‘What the heck are you doing?!’ he laughs. To stay motivated, he sets daily goals and remembers why he got into the sport in the first place: to stay active in retirement. “That’s the underlying motivation, and it’s proven to be very effective,” he says. “I wake up on Monday morning, and all of a sudden Sunday night is here. The time just flies by!” iBi

Wheel Advantages
The International Bike Fund, a nonprofit advocacy organization, promotes bicycling as a sustainable, healthy and fun mode of transportation. The group offers a list of 60 advantages of bicycling—here’s a few to consider. Bicycling…


Local Biking Guide
Central Illinois is full of recreational and mountain biking opportunities for the beginning or advanced rider. These local clubs, shops and trails make it easy to get started: