Seniors get a chance to ride RAGBRAI

Hiawatha — Pauline Schatzle jumped into the RAGBRAI fun this morning for what turned out to be a pair of firsts: her first time on the ride and — get this — her first time on any bike at all.

She is 91 years old.

Schatzle and about 15 other grinning residents of the Hiawatha Care Center took joy rides around the center’s parking lot with help from the Adaptive Sports Iowa team. They rolled their wheelchairs onto special pedal-powered contraptions steered from behind by volunteers — and away they went. Some of the braver ones joined other RAGBRAI riders out in the street, in cardigans and orthopedic shoes rather than Spandex and cleats.

“I feel like a queen!” said Barbara Ashby, 87, who remembers riding a dark green bike “ages ago” as a girl in southern Illinois.

When her pedaler, Diane Wise of Jefferson, asked if she wanted to go around again, she didn’t hesitate a second. “Sure!”

Adaptive Sports Iowa has organized a RAGBRAI team for the last five years, with a half-and-half mix of able-bodied riders and others with various physical disabilities. This year’s group of 60 includes blind cyclists (paired with sighted riders on tandem bikes) and amputees riding just about every customized contraption you can imagine. Thirteen rode 100-mile century loop on Tuesday.

Maybert Matsen, 103, of Fort Dodge takes a spin on RAGBRAI with All Ability Cycles owner John Brunow of Jefferson.

Maybert Matsen, 103, of Fort Dodge takes a spin on RAGBRAI with All Ability Cycles owner John Brunow of Jefferson.

The group gets both tech and moral support from All Ability Cycles in Jefferson, whose owners, John Brunow and Celia “Ces” Melson Brunow, arranged the pleasure rides for assisted-living residents along this year’s route. At an earlier stop, at Friendship Haven in Fort Dodge, they gave a ride to a 103-year-old woman named Maybert Matsen.

“It’s just so joyful, isn’t it?” Melson Brunow said. “They thought they’d never be on a bike again.”

The idea came to the Brunows last year in Mason City, when the Adaptive Sports Iowa team stayed overnight at a nursing home and was killing time before heading out the next morning. They figured they might as well take some of the residents out for a spin.

But this year, the team brought along some new models (from the German company Draisin) that allow wheelchair folks to simply roll onto a platform without transferring into a separate chair.

“That opens up possibilities for all sorts of new people,” Melson Brunow said.

The latest customized platform-bikes cost about $8,200 with the current exchange rate of the euro, but All Ability Cycles has ordered some slightly less expensive cycles from a Dutch company called Van Raam. Here at the Hiawatha center, there was talk of raising money to buy one of their own so residents could check it out for neighborhood rides with visiting family members and friends.

In the dining room, where residents were in the midst of another ordinary breakfast, the atmosphere was much quieter than out the window, where hundreds of RAGBRAI riders raced by with the taken-for-granted benefits of strong legs and healthy lungs.

But for one morning, at least, the residents here got a chance to feel a rush of fresh air. A few needed coaxing, at first, but as soon as they returned with big smiles and helmet hair, the others headed outside, too.

“It was fantastic! I felt like I was young again,” Darlene Gunn, 86, said. “It was the most refreshing thing I’ve done in a long time.”

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