Group of Retirees Ride Together in the Name of Health and Camaraderie

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This dynamic group of Durham cyclists maintains a robust lifestyle and finds community in the process.

Biker gang
Dr. Claudia Koonz, Dr. Kathy Turlington and Melissa McLeod typically bike twice a week with their group. 

By Elizabeth Kane | Photography by John Michael Simpson

It’s important to stay strong, healthy and active – no matter your age. While you keep your body moving you can also lift your spirits and find joy in the physical nature of exercise as well as in the camaraderie with the people around you. 

The cyclists at The Forest at Duke understand this. They’re exercising to stay healthy, but on that path to wellness, they’re also building positive relationships. 

Retired pediatric anesthesiologist Dr. Melissa McLeod moved to The Forest at Duke in 2019. “I’ve been biking pretty much all my life, but I really had time once I retired,” Melissa says. “When I joined the group in March 2020, there were about six of us who biked regularly together. … Now the group is up to 15 riders.” 

She was in her new home just six short months before the pandemic initiated shutdowns. “This group was an essential part of my safe socializing,” Melissa says. “It was a good way to be with people, but still have distance. Exercising, at least for me, is a great stress reduction. So there was that, too.” 

Melissa explains that there’s also a sense of security in groups when it comes to biking. “As we age, we get a little more safety conscious,” she says. “[And] if you get injured, it takes a long time to heal.” 

Together, they support one another. That includes working through some of the ups and downs that can come with the physicality of the sport. “A lot of it is social and being supportive,” Melissa says. “We always have lots of advice on how to get back [if someone gets hurt].” 

For older adults looking to engage in more physical activities, Melissa encourages folks to “start slow and try to make a habit. You don’t want to overdo it. Just slowly build back. See if you can find a supportive network, either [through] friends or a group that also shares the same activity. 

Biker gang
Ray Phillips, Melissa, Kathy and Claudia are part of a biking group that does anywhere from 25- to 35-mile rides all over the area.

“It’s important to keep exercising no matter what it is you choose,” Melissa adds. Maybe that’s biking, or perhaps another activity like walking or yoga. “Whatever you can do in a group, all the better,” she says. “But keep doing what you’re doing, because as you age, you lose that resilience.” 

Not everyone who bikes with the growing group lives at The Forest at Duke. Some come from other areas, like Dr. Kathy Turlington, a retired pediatrician who lives downtown at Durham Central Park Cohousing

Kathy says the rides together are heart-pumping. “We usually do 25 or 35 miles,” she says. “… It’s definitely a workout, and it’s a commitment in terms of discretionary time in your day. Typically, we do something twice a week, and that [means needing to] carve out at least three hours from your day to do it. … But almost all of us are retired.” 

Kathy says there was something special about biking that came back to her when she rode. It made her feel a sense of release, one that originated from a particularly cherished childhood memory. 

“It reminded me of when I was a little kid [and] … I rode my bike everywhere,” Kathy says. “I still remember when my dad let go of the back of the end of my bike, when I was going from training wheels to no help. I just remember that moment, like a little snippet of joy from a time I can’t remember much else about. … That feeling came back, and I just love the freedom.” 

Kathy says she also enjoys “that joy of movement and motion, and just being completely off and autonomous [when biking]. … I’ve stuck with it ever since. It’s just so pleasant to do.” 

“One of the reasons I also stuck with it is that it has turned out to be a great way to connect with your tribe,” Kathy adds. “There’s just something that we all seem to share, the bikers and the cyclists of the world. We have some gene or something.” 

Kathy encourages physical activities to stay healthy and keep up the consistency of good exercise habits, but more importantly, to discover what makes you happiest. “Whatever you find that brings you joy, that’s the thing to do,” Kathy says. “Remember: Find the joy.” 

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Durham Magazine Intern

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