top of page

Wind in their hair, joy in their faces

Cycling Without Age gets Alex seniors on the move

By Rachel Barduson


Peddler Cindy Storhaug, takes passengers Bea Rahn and Ivy Diedrich out for a ride on one of the new electric assist trishaw now available in Alexandria thanks to a new group called Cycling Without Age Alexandria. Photo by Rachel Barduson

Nancy Guenther Klepetka has loved bicycling since the first time she cruised down the streets of Wadena as a child.


“Every kid remembers their first bike. Mine was way too big for me,” she said. “It was a woman’s Hiawatha that had been not-so-gently used and had a giant seat on it. I’m guessing my mom got it free from some neighbors. After a week of crashing into curbs and repeatedly skinning up both knees and elbows, dad and mom went to Zosel’s Hardware store in Wadena and picked out a brand new, 20-inch single-speed Spyder with a daisy-covered banana seat and white plastic basket on the handle bars for $44.95,” she explained. She was just getting started.


“That summer I rode my bike all over Wadena, to the outdoor swimming pool and the little candy store in our neighborhood. In high school, I convinced my boyfriend to let me join him and his friends on RAGBRAI, a week-long bike fest across the state of Iowa.”


That bike fest would be one of the first of many examples of how Nancy can make things happen, not only with personal healthy-living goals, but with inspiring a community-wide network of people, places and things. No grass growing under her feet, no. Only wind in her hair as she breezes on by.


When the first Mountain Bike Club in Alexandria was organized in 2016 it was only natural that Nancy and Greg Klepetka’s son Adam would join the team.


“It was that club, the Mountaineers, and Coach Shawn Thelen, that brought our entire family to a fundraiser riding vintage bikes along the Central Lakes Trail in 2016. My dad and mom had a blast riding with all of us. Mom immediately headed to a bike shop and bought herself a new bike.


Pictured with two of the new trishaws at the kickoff event last month are (L to R) Scott Dietz, Luke Walsh, Alice Schmitz, Cally Endres, Nancy Klepetka, Craig Andrews and Sawyer Filipiak. Photo by Rachel Barduson

In the Spring of 2019, we took a family vacation to Florida and mom snuck off for a spin on one of the bikes we were using at our rental house. She had some circulation and balance issues with her legs and walking had become difficult. We didn’t think she should be riding a bike. She thought she should. She sailed around a corner, lifting both feet off the pedals and shouting, ‘WooHoo! Look at me!!’ That would be mom’s last bike ride. She passed away from complications of a stroke later that year,” Nancy said. Mom is Joyce Guenther, Nancy’s inspiration for launching Cycling Without Age Alexandria. “I can’t give my mom a ride, but I can give rides to other moms and grandmothers and aunts and uncles and dads and more. I can still see the wind in her hair and the joy on her face as she sailed on by us riding that bike in Florida.”


Start of Cycling Without Age Alexandria


Emily Erickson, Wendy Hable and Bobbi Hay on one of the new trishaws made available through Cycling Without Age Alexandria at a kickoff event last month. Photo by Rachel Barduson

"Bikes hold very special memories for me, as they do for many people,” Nancy began. The “first seed” for starting a Cycling Without Age group in Alexandria was planted in Nancy’s mind in 2014 when she watched a TED talk with Ole Kassow describing his organization called Cycling Without Age. However, it was about timing in business, raising a family and life in general that put the seed in the back of Nancy’s mind for a few years. Ironically, it was death that reactivated, nourished and caused the seed to sprout. It was time for the sprout to germinate.


“I knew it was a way to honor my Mom and the love of bike riding she shared with me,” Nancy explained. A journal writer, Nancy recorded in 2021 her start in researching Cycling Without Age seven years after watching the TED talk by Ole Kussow. It was time to get organized.


After lots of research and rallying a supportive core group, Nancy got to work. Craig Andrews came on board early, soon joined by Alice Schmitz and Cally Endres.


“The four of us have had the distinct honor of bringing Cycling Without Age Alexandria (CWAA) to life in our community. With the support of Big Ole Bike Club and the Mountaineer Bike Club, we were able to match an early grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services Age-Friendly Minnesota program. We ordered our first electric assist trishaw from Copenhagen Cycles in Denmark. Very quickly after that, we were delighted to accept a $25,000 AARP Community Challenge Grant. We purchased two more bikes. Most recently, CWAA was awarded a $15,000 grant from the Alexandria Area Community Foundation. With that grant and continued fundraising we plan to purchase a wheel-chair carrying fourth trishaw to add to our fleet.”


Growth and Community Support


CWAA achieved Affiliate status in November 2022, one of over 3,050 Cycling Without Age affiliates across the world. Big Ole Bike Club is the chapter’s fiscal agent.



Preparing for a ride on one of the trishaws is (L to R) Lilly Marusak, Vicky Bartos, Nancy Kleptka and Julia Nelson. Photo by Rachel Barduson

Nancy explained further, “We facilitate free bike rides by pairing volunteer ‘cycling pilots’ with older adults and those with restricted mobility. These rides are possible with the use of specialized, electric assist trishaws. We promote volunteerism, intergenerational bonding and story-telling while celebrating and enjoying nature. All rides are free.”


On Aug. 4, 2023 Jake’s Bike Shop took delivery of CWAA’s first three trishaws. Once the trishaws were completely assembled, volunteer “pilots” spent a day at Grand Arbor and provided rides for 16 residents while meeting kids and their families in the neighborhood. Craig Andrews was able to ride at the Douglas County Fair on Senior Day and introduced folks to the new organization.


“We knew, in organizing Alexandria’s group that we had to be unique to the needs of our community. There are affiliates all over the world. Every community does it a little bit differently to fit their particular community needs,” Nancy explained. “There is a chapter in Willmar, another in Fergus Falls. We scoured the website (cyclingwithoutage.org) and we have continued to research other chapters to see what has made each unique.”


CWAA has given over 300 rides since their three trishaws arrived in Alexandria in early August 2023.


“We have 12 trained volunteer pilots. In our first season, CWAA’s youngest rider was 10 weeks old and the oldest was 97 years old. We’ve given lots of birthday rides. Our Community Kick-Off on Oct. 10 at Big Ole Park was our most recent opportunity to share what we are all about,” Nancy said.


What’s next?


The bikes are currently being stored at Grand Arbor and Windmill Ponds, depending on where they are needed next. CWAA is thankful for the support of the community and continues to accept donations. They are looking for volunteers to be trained as pilots and continue to connect with groups in the community. “We’ve shared our story with the Parkinson’s Support Group, the Visually Impaired Person’s group, local churches and multiple assisted living and care homes in the county. We are excited to offer an opportunity for people in our community to connect across generations and abilities while enjoying the wind in their hair and some fresh air. We also love a good story and we’ve already shared many of those. We can’t wait for season two,” Nancy said.


Clockwise from top: Greg Klepetka, daughter Chelsea, baby Tripp Rudolph (youngest rider in CWAA history, daughter Elise, and Nancy. Photo by Nancy Kleptka

The connections are close, and some new friendships have surfaced through past relationships.


“I met a lady at Grand Arbor who knew my mom, they nursed together,” said Nancy. “I didn’t know my new friend before CWAA. At a recent gathering a gentleman came up to me saying he was newly retired and searching for the right fit in volunteer opportunities. After giving some rides on this particular day, he said, ‘I think I found it.’ He sees joy in people who are riding a bicycle and the outdoors again. With CWAA we will ensure that the least able in our community will not become the least visible.”



33 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page