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From a stroke, to peak fitness in my 60s

About George

Being born and raised in Holland, George is known for his Dutch 'directness'. He's also a keen cyclist who commutes between work and home on the bicycle, weather permitting, and does leasure rides in the weekends. On his travels on the bike he encounters a variety of situations, some funny, some unpleasant and some outright dangerous.

How I cycled my way back to health and peak fitness in my 60s.

Six years ago I was overweight and very unfit. The simplest task would leave me exhausted, even taking a shower was an uphill battle.

Cycling literally saved the author's life after a stroke at 59.

Cycling literally saved the author's life after a stroke at 59. Pic: iStock

I attributed the problems to the stroke I suffered two years earlier. I made a full recovery from that, but it had left me in a state of apathy and permament tiredness. Apart from that, I suffered from high blood pressure, my cholesterol levels were through the roof, I was mildly diabetic and I had severe back aches.

I had resigned to the idea that my life was pretty much over at an age of 59 and that I would never be able to live a full life again. I used to cycle during my younger years and enviously watched the Lycra-clad cyclists who passed my house from time to time.

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In early 2011, I followed the advice of a former collegue and went to see a naturopath for advice. He diagnosed my problem as ''. What that means is that the all the energy you take in is not properly absorbed in the cells and, therefore, does not transform into energy for the body. Instead, since the body doesn't know what else to do with it, it's stored as fat. The result is being overweight and a total lack of energy.

"Fortunately it is treatable," he said. He prescribed a low-carb diet with an exercise regime of 20 minutes of intensive training a day, five times a week. Thinking of what excercise I could do, I remembered the hybrid bike that was gathering dust in the garage.

And so I started. The first rides, a loop in my area, were hard and slow. Each ride was 9km long and took me around 30 minutes. To my surprise, the weight started to come off quite quickly. Also, the rides became easier and faster. After a few weeks, the loop took me only 20 minutes. And what's more, I enjoyed cycling again!

Eight months after I started my new lifestyle, I decided I'd made enough progress to swap my hybrid bike to a proper road bike. I had lost more than 40kg and my fitness level was great. So I bought an entry-level road race, a Malvern Star Oppy A4. And I joined a group of riders who went out on Saturday mornings. Group rides are even more enjoyable than solo rides and are a great way to meet new friends.

Another six months passed and I thought I was good enough to take up racing. I chose time-trialling. Competing against yourself and the elements suits me better than the dangerous cat-and-mouse games of road racing.

When I turned up for my first race, I was completely overwhelmed by the equipment that other riders had. Special aerodynamic time-trial bikes with disc wheels, pointy aero helmets, skin suits ... you name it. On my alloy entry bike I was no match for that lot. So, after a few races I bought an aero TT bike, but I couldn't afford disc wheels, unfortunately. But, the speed improved dramatically on the TT bike and I managed to climb up significantly in the rankings. Luckily, in time trialling there are age categories and in my group, 55-65, I managed to place myself in the top end of the field.

Yet another six months went by and, although I had enjoyed my alloy bike, I reckoned I was ready for the real stuff and bought a Trek Madone 5.2. It was full carbon, very lightweight and extremely comfortable for endurance rides.

Now, after four years and almost 55,000km, it is still very enjoyable and in mint condition. It does beg the question though, what is the lifespan of a bicycle? 

The other day, I read a story about a fellow cyclist who had a catastrophic failure in the handlebar of his bike while descending at high speed. Unfortunately, he didn't survive the accident. Later on, it was established that hairline cracks in the handle bar had caused the failure. That made me realise that bicycles may have a limited life span.

So I went to my bike shop and asked the question. The owner didn't know, either, had never wondered about it. "But since you ask, it a very interesting question and I will find out", he said. Of course, the lifespan depends on many different variables. How the bike is used, on what road surfaces, how hard you ride it, how well is it maintained and so on.

I don't have a reply yet, but I started to look at new bikes and found the one I want - a Trek Emonda SL-6. Time to start saving!

Looking back to how I changed over the past six years, it is actually pretty amazing how the human body is able to bounce back from being a lost cause to a fit and healthy person. It also has positive effects on your mental health, life suddenly looks a lot more pleasant than before.

So, if you are over 50, overweight and lethargic, you know that you can probably fix it. It's hard in the beginning, but very rewarding.

From the way, that loop of 9km that once took me 30 minutes to complete? Now I can do it in less than 15 minutes. I once managed to complete it in 13 minutes and 30 seconds, an average speed of 40km/h, although that was in a group with my new-found cycling mates.

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Derek, 8 months ago:
I am great
George, 8 months ago:
What's up Thomas?
George, 8 months ago:
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