Life a wonderful ride

GORDON Atkins might be approaching his 80th birthday this year but he has no plans of slowing down, particularly when it comes to his passion for cycling.

Gordon Atkins.

Gordon Atkins.

Clocking up more than 40,000 kilometres in the last six years, Gordon is likely Swan Hill's oldest regular cyclist and still gets a huge sense of freedom and adrenalin each time he mounts the bike.

Born in Melbourne, Gordon enjoyed a variety of sports including squash and cricket but cycling was always his favourite. 

He competed in both road and track racing, and in 1956 completed his longest race – a 140 mile trek from Melbourne to Heyfield.

But it was not long after this ride that he took a serious fall and made the decision to quit riding.

"I had a decent crash and decided it was time to retire," he said.

"I met Heather at a dance in Hawthorn not long after that."

Heather is Gordon's wife.

The pair sit across the room from each other as they tell their stories, looking for agreeance with every single memory.

They are polite and share a turn at both talking and listening. 

They fill in each other's gaps and their eyes glisten with pride when they talk about the lives of their now adult children. There is a sense of deep love and respect between them.

Heather shares Gordon's passion for sport. They are celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary this year, but as a young couple starting out, recall it was love at first sight.

"We had been seeing each other for only six weeks but we knew by then we wanted to get married," Heather said.

"Gordon fitted in well with my family and loved sport, so it was a good match.

"I played a lot of netball back then and adored the Hawthorn Football Club and he shared my passion for football,"

Gordon operated his own building company in Melbourne and the pair had three children. 

They spent many summers visiting family at Boundary Bend and Gordon recalled always having a connection to the region. 

In 1982, the family took a huge leap of faith and made a tree change buying a fruit block at Wood Wood. 

The couple laugh as they remember how the purchase came about.

"We fell in love with the house and it just so happened that the fruit block came with it," Gordon said.

"And it was a disaster.

"We had no idea about farming at that point and we almost lost everything we had worked for in our lives.

"The timing was terrible.

"Bob Hawke was Prime Minister and he had just opened up trade to overseas so there was a huge influx of fruit on the local market and it cost us big time."

The pair retired into Swan Hill six years ago and it was then Gordon decided to have another crack at cycling.

At 74, he was looking for something to keep him active and found walking was taxing on his hips, so he bought himself a new bike.

He averages 40 kilometres a day, riding four times a week.

"I just love the feeling I get being on the bike," he said.

"You can hear the wheels turning on the bitumen and the gears changing.

"It's an amazing sense of freedom and peace and quiet."

Despite his age, Gordon does not take any medications, although he does admit to struggling to get the body going when getting out of bed in the mornings.

He values the social aspect of riding with other people and often heads up a riding group for cyclists who prefer to take their time or are easing into the sport.

Both he and Heather still get down to Melbourne to watch AFL games regularly. Gordon also took the opportunity to watch a friend race in the Masters Games.

"I got to the track and you could feel the passion of the riders, it was just electric," he said.

"My friend was trying to get me to compete but I was a few years shy of the oldest age group and I knew I'd have a stiff field to compete against.

"I wanted to wait until I could race with the real oldies so I'd have a shot of winning."

Gordon has met many people who cycle in later life.

"There was a lady who had started riding simply because her father had Alzheimer's and he still wanted to ride," he said.

"She took it up so that she could follow him and make sure he was safe.

"It really is a great sport for older people."

Some of the benefits that Gordon attributes to cycling include socialisation and positive health.

He said technology has progressed since he first rode as a young man in Melbourne.

"The equipment is much better now," he said.

"The clothing is all designed for comfort and makes for a much more pleasant experience.

"The bikes are lighter and the seats are better designed.

For Gordon who enjoys the sense of freedom and solitude, riding in a group of cyclist actually provides that.

"There is nothing like sitting in a bunch of riders and getting that tail wind.

"In amongst the bunch you can use 30 per cent less effort and you just fly."

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