January 28, 2023 4 min read 3 Comments
It would take a lot, like knee replacement surgery, to knock John Jeffers out of the cycling que. He is not one for excuses.
By Ray Glier
John Jeffers is 66 years old, a Navy veteran. He worked in Explosive Ordinance Disposal before his retirement. No, his nickname is not Lucky. Jeffers’ work was stateside and it was repairing the equipment of Navy divers, not diffusing mines bobbing up and down in the Persian Gulf.
Jeffers is a competitive cyclist. He routinely enters the Northern Virginia senior games and the Virginia state senior games and competed in the National Senior Games in Ft. Lauderdale last spring. John does not dominate the competition. In fact, he finished last in two road races (65-69) and 39th out of 41 in the 5k time trial and 42 of 43 riders in the 10k time trial in Ft. Lauderdale.
What makes John important here is that he all kinds of reasons to quit biking. But his Navy training, his father’s example, and his own resolve will not syphon off Jeffers’ eagerness to exercise.
*His right knee, which is soon to be replaced, really hurt in Ft. Lauderdale, but he pedaled through it. He hobbled into a restaurant after one race, looking like he would tumble over with the next step, and a friend said, “Why are you doing this?”
*Jeffers finishes in the way back of races, but he won’t protect his ego by quitting. He refuses to be go away by heaping school-yard shame on himself.
*When he worked it was a slog home through Washington, D.C. region traffic, an hour, so he folded the bike up, put it in the trunk, and rode after work near the office. It created space between work issues and settling in at home with family, a sort of emotional therapy on wheels.
Pain, ego, and traffic are just some of the alibis that keep us from exercise. We swing back and forth between reasons to put off the work of staying healthy and getting out there.
Jeffers used none of the alibis. He is relatable to the rest of you Geezer Jocks who won’t fold, who have built a firewall against the easy act of couch-seeking.
Boston Red Sox/Chicago White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk said, “It's not what you achieve, it's what you overcome. That's what defines your career."
Your "career" as older athlete is defined by what you overcome, like injuries, arthritis, tiredness.
“I will not complain about finishing where I do because I can think of a lot of guys that could not even think about doing what everybody was doing down there in Florida,” Jeffers said.
The winning time in Ft. Lauderdale for the 5k for men 65-69 was 6:47.4, which is pretty stout.
And so is this: in 2016, in his first 5k time trial he ever did, Jeffers went 11:32. With a right knee flaring up in pain, he did 9:41 in Ft. Lauderdale, and he was six years older.
Look for those wins to keep you going.
“I felt the knee, but I could live with it. After a fair amount of time in the military, I'm fairly used to discomfort,” John said. “Plus, I'm one of those guys that still goes out and mows his own lawn and cuts his own firewood and, if a tree needs to be taken down in the backyard, I’ll do that.”
Jeffers is reverential to what people put themselves through to keep going.
He said he saw a woman at the cycling events in Ft. Lauderdale, who was in her late 70s, early 80s, using an oxygen generator fixed to the bike so she could compete. He saw a man, who was 95, racing on the bike.
It reminds him of a saying that comes from the military:
“The only easy day was yesterday.”
The template for sticking it out came from his father, who grew up in The Great Depression and was a World War II vet. After the war, Donald Jeffers owned gas stations and was a car mechanic. There was no puppyish behavior allowed around some of these men.
“Everybody has setbacks, everybody has something that comes up,” Jeffers says. “You simply have to roll with it. His attitude was ‘This is the way it is, this is the hand you’ve been dealt, and move on’.”
What he didn’t learn about resilience from his father, Jeffers learned in the service.
“You learn a certain amount of discipline and in the military you have some stuff thrown at you that you might not care for, but you take it, work with it," John said. "The discipline helps you to focus and say ‘yes, it hurts a little bit’ but you just keep yourself moving.”
Jeffers stopped running in 2011 when his left knee gave out and he started cycling. Now, he has to stop cycling to get the right knee replaced in about 90 days. He will not compete in the National Senior Games in Pittsburgh, but will start making a comeback in September when the Virginia senior games come around.
Jeffers is not looking forward to knee replacement surgery, but he understands if he puts away the bike for good because the knee hurts what’s waiting on the other side—overall decay—is not pleasant.
See it as a gift that you keep that white flag of surrender in your back pocket, like John Jeffers.
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