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Bicyclist, nearly 90, regularly rides 31 miles in Parrish

Parrish woman is nearly 90 and can ride a bicycle between 14 and 16 miles an hour

Ruth Husky, who rides every Tuesday in Parrish, is part of a growing group of 90-year-olds who are limber.
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Ruth Husky, who rides every Tuesday in Parrish, is part of a growing group of 90-year-olds who are limber.

Ruth Husky will probably be taking it easy on Nov. 9, the day she turns 90.

But the Sun City Center woman is not taking it easy that day because of her age.

She’s taking it easy because she allows herself a rest day on Wednesdays, the day after she rides her road bike 31 miles through Parrish for three hours with about a dozen fellow riders from the 500-member strong Sarasota Manatee Bicycle Club.

Husky can still cruise along on the club’s “Golf Course Ride” with others who share her speed range at 14 to 16 miles per hour.

Casual bike riders cruise at 10 or 11 miles per hour, said Jim Wheeler, the club’s Parrish ride leader.

As they ride along the roads named Chin, Old Tampa, Fort Hamer and Golf Course, Husky doesn’t get left behind, her ride mates said.

What do you say about Ruth? First of all, she is just a really, really nice person. She is just a joy to be around. She is a role model to senior citizens. She is not only able to do this but she is motivated to do this. She keeps right up with us. She is not a slacker, believe me.

Jeffrey Flagg of Parrish

“Ruth amazes everyone,” Wheeler said. “One of our riders told me, ‘Ruth makes me mad. I used to think I was quite a rider until I found her catching up to me.’ ”

On Thursdays, Husky is back on the bike. She rides on Saturdays, too.

The always smiling Husky doesn’t know exactly how she is able to do what she does.

How can feet, ankles, knees, hips, arms and shoulders hold up for 90 years?

Her guess is that her body is used to riding because she has been doing it weekly since 1978.

“I don’t get sore, but I do get worn out,” Husky said while munching on a slice of pepperoni and sausage pizza with her ride partners on the outside patio of Michelangelo Pizza in Parrish last Tuesday. “When I was 70, I would finish a ride and feel very energetic, very charged up and ready to do all my work. Now I don’t. Now I am tired.”

Other parts of Husky haven’t held up as well as her muscles and joints, proving perhaps that she really is human.

“I take a thyroid pill and have been for 25 years along with a lot of flax seed, fish oil and other vitamins,” Husky said.

But still, being 90 and riding a bike for 31 miles seems incredible.

Husky’s riding colleagues don’t have answers either as to her ability to ride at her age.

“Being 90 and even being able to get on a bike seems impossible to me,” said club member Jeff Lamb of Bradenton. “She is phenomenal, truly phenomenal. To be 90 and even thinking of riding a bike and riding the way she does is simply amazing.”

Lamb described Husky on her bike as “smooth and steady.”

“Ruth has a great spirit,” said fellow rider Emily Krueger. “She’s very positive and upbeat. I heard that sometimes she rides in the morning and grabs another ride in the afternoon. I couldn’t do it.”

“Ruth is tenacious,” said rider Bryan Groh. “She never quits. She keeps on pumping.”

“She’s the Energizer bunny,” said rider Cathy Reagan. “She never stops.”

Said Jeffrey Flagg of Parrish about Husky, “What do you say about Ruth? First of all, she is just a really, really nice person. She is just a joy to be around. She is a role model to senior citizens. She is not only able to do this but she is motivated to do this. She keeps right up with us. She is not a slacker, believe me.”

The humble Husky doesn’t think she is anything special.

“No secret,” Husky said with a laugh last Tuesday. “I just keep showing up. My motivation is to be a part of this great group of fun people that I’ve been riding with. Slowing down is in my future, but not quite yet.”

A shift on what a 90-year-old can do

Husky is unusual to be 90 and able to ride as much as she can, but more and more 80- and 90-year-olds can do amazing things, said a pair of Manatee County orthopedic surgeons, Drs. John Ayers and Daniel Lamar, both of Coastal Orthopedics, which has offices at Pointe West Boulevard in Bradenton, State Road 64 and Lakewood Ranch.

“I think, in general, there has been a major shift in our expectations of what we can do physically as we age and that shift is toward expectations of things never considered,” said Lamar, who also is a sports medicine specialist and is the team doctor for the Tennessee Titans football team and the U.S. men’s soccer team.

“We are now seeing a lot of people in their 80s and 90s who are limber,” Lamar added.

Lamar believes that Husky is exceptional.

“I would say she has four things in her favor,” Lamar said. “One is good genetics. Two is luck. Three is that she has done a good job of maintaining her health and four, she chose the right activity as a lifetime pursuit. Cycling is one activity I suggest to people with lower body injuries because it is lower impact. You can push hard. It’s a joint-friendly exercise.”

Ayres said that while he still sees lots of 90-year-olds with hip and knee pain from arthritis, there are also many older people who don’t get those ailments. Ayres thinks the reason is that, whether they know it or not, they have become proponents of Dr. Henry S. Lodge, author of “Younger Next Year.” In that book, Lodge lists seven rules to staying young.

Husky, Ayres said, is following most if not all of the seven rules.

“The rules are exercise six days a week, do aerobic exercise four days a week and lift weights two days a week,” Ayres said. “The last four are spend less than you make, quit eating garbage, care about people and connect and commit.”

Ayres was not surprised that Husky made the comment that her motivation was to be a part of a “great group of fun people.” That’s rule No. 6.

“Many women who live into their 90s are widows,” Ayres said. “If they have a supportive network they will live longer and stay healthy.”

True to form, Husky said she took up bike riding after her first husband died. The sport led her to her second husband, who owned a bike shop and now that she is single it has supplied her with her “biking family” like Wheeler and Flagg.

“The last rule is being involved in something bigger than yourself,” Ayres said. “It’s like volunteering at a hospital or doing some important work. It’s worrying more than about yourself. I believe, like Dr. Lodge, that if you have a reason to get up in the morning instead of waking up under the grass you will wake up above the grass. In a nutshell, you have to maintain yourself physically, emotionally and mentally.”

People who are 80 or 90 should start with an exercise within their ability, Lamar said.

“Your choices should be activities that have low impact on the joints, like walking and riding a bike,” Lamar said. “But if you don’t know if your balance is good, try a stationary bike.”

Lamar is also a big fan of swimming for people in their 80s and 90s.

“It’s a great way to get a great cardio workout and it’s low impact and full body,” Lamar said.

Lamar said it is never too late for people to start exercising.

“Absolutely, people can begin to improve their health at any age,” Lamar said. “We all see decline at some point, but the key is to slow the decline. Mrs. Husky is not making gains at 90. But she has certainly slowed the clock on her deterioration.”

Richard Dymond: 941-745-7072, @RichardDymond

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