“I came to athletics very late in life. I learned to ride a bike at the age of 69 because I wanted to bike 70 miles on my 70th birthday,” says Jeter, who is ever-humble about her accomplishments. “I did that because I wanted to make a big splash. I’d had breast cancer at the age of 66, and wanted to demonstrate that I was in fabulous good health.”
And that she did. Jeter achieved her 70-mile bike ride that year, raising $70,000 for charity along the way. Then, she couldn’t stop.
“In graduate school, I studied Dr. William Glasser’s theory of positive addiction. I decided I was positively addicted to bicycling,” says Jeter.
The Elixir for Old Age
Her next big adventure? Biking across the United States with her best friend from graduate school.
“Looking for more ways to pursue bicycling, we began bicycling with a company called WomanTours. And we heard about these women who were biking across the country. I thought that sounded fabulous! My best friend did not think it sounded so amazing,” laughs Jeter. “I told her to go home and pray about it. She did, and we biked all the way from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida, with 16 other women in 56 days.”
Jeter has had many adventures since learning to bicycle at 69, including scuba diving with whale sharks in the Georgia Aquarium and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. But they haven’t been without their challenges.
“Six months before the climb, I came down with pneumonia. I was on a ventilator for eight days, and hospitalized for a month,” Jeter recounts. “I would not have recovered from that kind of a health insult at 75 had I not been very fit.”
“Exercise is the elixir for old age,” she adds.
The Natchez Trace
Jeter’s life-changing climb is what inspired her epic 80th-birthday bike ride.
“I decided to use the ride to raise money for globalbike, which provides bicycles for women in rural Tanzania. While I was in Tanzania for my climb, I saw how the local women used bikes. We ride them for fun, but there, bicycles are critical for accessing healthcare and economic resources.”
The official name of the fundraising event was Bibi’s Birthday Bike Ride. The name was inspired by the nickname given to her by the local mountain guides at Kilimanjaro — Bibi, which means “Grandmother” in Swahili.
Thus, on October 17, Jeter and a group of 16 other cyclists age 62 through 80 set out on the Natchez Trace Parkway, along with two SAGs (support and gear helpers), one of whom was her 86-year-old husband. For Jeter, the biggest challenge of the ride wasn’t the long, sloping inclines of Tennessee, or the pouring rain on the last day of the ride.
“The most challenging part was making sure my friends were well accommodated and having a good time,” says Jeter. “And we had a fabulous time! We did not hear one discouraging word or complaint, and not one person was even a minute late in the entire nine days.”
Despite a downpour on the final day in Mississippi, the group completed their ambitious ride on October 25 — Jeter’s 80th birthday.
Age Is Just a Number
Athletes over 60 are not uncommon. But even among her peers, Jeter’s story is especially unique.
“Before age 69, I didn’t do any aggressive exercise. I was active, don’t get me wrong, but nobody would ever, ever, ever have chosen me for a team. I couldn’t catch a ball.”
While many say that late-adopters of exercise shouldn’t attempt such extreme athletic feats, Dr. Jeter believes otherwise.
“Oh, that’s crazy,” she says. “You have no idea what that does to the hair on my arms.” Jeter then references a recent study about aggressive cyclists ages 55 to 79, whose immune systems were found to be producing the same amount of beneficial T-cells as those of the average 20-year-old.
Her advice for seniors who want to get into exercise? Find a friend, family member or local exercise group.
“Find people to encourage you and play with you. One of the concerns about old people is isolation. Find playmates — that’s the most important thing.”
Jeter accomplished $28,000 of her charity goal by her 80th birthday, but still has time to reach her total goal of $80,000.
To make a positive impact on the lives of Tanzanian women and support Jeter’s cause, donate to globalbike at the Bibi’s Birthday Bike Ride donation page.
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