Life on Two Wheels: Katherine Jeter finds cycling at 70
Editor’s note: For countless Summit County residents, a bicycle is more than a machine — it’s a lifestyle. Every week during the summer, we’ll ask our most adventurous residents, “Where has your bike taken you?”
Katherine Jeter was at the halfway point of a 56-day, coast-to-coast bike ride when one of her road companions pulled her aside.
“Every time we stop, I just can’t believe you’d made it,” Jeter recounts in an adopted New York accent.
Then she laughs, and continues on in her natural Southern drawl.
“I said, ‘Well, would you rather have me train for another 10 years and wait until I’m 80?’” The group, a collection of 16 women and two men, were cycling 2,380 miles from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida, with the guide outfit WomanTours. The average age was around 50 years old, but Jeter and her good friend, Marge, were in their early 70s — at least 20 years older than the rest.
And, the two had only picked up biking a few years earlier, when Jeter decided to celebrate her 70th birthday with a bang. For the past 15 years, the Texas native has split time between Summit County and a cabin in North Carolina — “It’s not my heart home, just where I pay,” she says — and heard the story of a ski instructor who covered 70,000 vertical feet on her 70th birthday. She had to do the same, or at least something similar.
“I just remember sitting on that bus from Frisco to Copper Mountain, hearing all my friends who congregate for ski season talking about their biking and their hiking,” Jeter remembers. “Being from the Deep South, ladies my age don’t do anything active. They just don’t. So, I’m sure that was percolating in the back of my mind, a way to mark this occasion and start anew.”
Apart from skiing, Jeter admits her “history of athleticism” is spotty at best. But, something about training to cycle was appealing. On Oct. 28, 2008, her landmark birthday, she rode 70 miles on the Little Miami scenic trail in Ohio with 23 friends and family.
Together, they raised $98,000 for charities: the Yellow Ribbon Fund, a nonprofit for wounded veterans, and Jack’s Place, a support home at Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards, where Jeter stayed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When I was diagnosed, the questions was, ‘Do I go back to North Carolina for treatment, or do I stay in Summit County?’” Jeter says. “It was in December, so I said, ‘I can’t bag an entire ski season.’ That’s how I ended up at Shaw. I could ski all day and go to radiation in the afternoon.”
By 2011, when she was 72, Jeter and Marge completed the cross-country ride. Since then, biking has been on par with skiing. Jeter gushes about her Trek Madone carbon fiber rig, and her three adult children picked up the sport after watching Mom fall in love. The family now bikes together, tackling everything from local recpaths to century rides. She even entered — and won — three sprint triathlons in the Carolinas. (She was the only athlete in her age group, but a win is a win, she says.)
Now 77 years old, Jeter is an avid cyclist. It’s taken her across the world, often to towns and cities and countries she never would have seen otherwise.
“The perseverance, the confidence that comes from the ride — it’s just incredible. I’m trying to write an essay now, entitled, ‘The Gift of My Life,’ because that bike tour really did change my life. I just got back from cycling Mantua to Venice in Northern Italy. Last year, I did a bike barge trip in the Netherlands. These things, they’re the things I just never would’ve done, I never would’ve know about, I never would’ve found them without biking. I even climbed Kilimanjaro on my 75th birthday, but I don’t think I would’ve accomplished that if I hadn’t found biking.
I’ve also met athletic, independent women. My husband (Jack) was an Army Ranger and a helicopter pilot, but he’s already had his days in the trenches. To have groups of skiers, groups of cyclists, groups of athletic, independent women who are adventurous, it’s just so stimulating and encouraging.
And it certainly opened windows to seeing the world at 10 miles per hour: the Hatch chiles in New Mexico, the pistachio trees in Arizona, the canals in the Nederlands and Italy — it’s just an entirely different perspective on everything. It has been such a joy to me. And I start thinking, ‘If I can do this now, when I’m in my 70s, what can I do in my 80s?’”
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