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!”
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
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…
- is the most energy efficient form of transportation.
- has virtually no carbon footprint.
- provides better muscle tone, bone mass improvement and even clearer skin.
- increases mobility for people with arthritis, back problems or mobility issues.
- has a low impact on the body.
- is therapeutic for the mind and spirit—it’s fun and can make you happy.
- saves money! Switching from a car can save on gas, tires, insurance, maintenance, parking and more.
- can increase your productivity at work through exercise.
- can transform your commute into the best part of your day.
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:
- Illinois Valley Wheelm’n, ivwheelmn.org
- Peoria Bicycle Club, peoriabicycleclub.com
- Peoria Area Mountain Bike Association, pambamtb.org
- Proctor Cycling, proctorcycling.blogspot.com
- Bushwhacker, 4700 N. University, Peoria, bushwhacker.com
- Dunham’s Sports, 3425 N. University, Peoria, dunhamssports.com
- Illinois Cycle and Fitness, 9016 N. Allen Road, Peoria, illinois-cycle.com
- Little Ade’s Bicycles, 305 N. 5th, Pekin, littleades.com
- Russell’s Cycling & Fitness Center, 10 Valley Forge Plaza, Washington, russellsfitness.com
- Wildlife Prairie State Park offers 9.5 miles of beginner to advanced trails for mountain bike use. Trails are open from sunrise to 10pm. Visit wildlifeprairiestatepark.org.
- Jubilee College State Park offers 3,200 acres of scenic hills and trails. Visit dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/r1/jubilee.htm.
- Black Partridge Trail in Woodford County offers 15 miles of single track. Visit villageofmetamora.com/?parblack.
- Farmdale Reservoir in Tazewell County has 20 miles of twisting hills and fast stretches. Visit pambamtb.org.
- Pekin’s Dirksen Park features sharp descents and miles of trails. Visit pekinparkdistrict.org/dirksen.html.
- The River Trail of Illinois features five miles of recreational riding in East Peoria. Visit fondulacpark.com/?q=rivertrail.
- The Rock Island State Trail runs 26 miles from Alta to Toulon, with additional sections under construction. Visit dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/r1/rockisle.htm.