Newland wheeling his way to gold medals

Messenger photo by Linda Dillman
Senior cyclist Joe Newland, who is also a personal trainer at the Groveport Recreation Center, prepares to compete in the Ohio Senior Olympics at Ceasar Creek State Park on July 8. Newland recently won a trio of gold medals at a local competition held in May at Highbanks Park in Columbus.

With more than 6,000 miles logged on his titanium and carbon-framed racing cycle, 71-year-old fitness expert Joe Newland is a Senior Olympic gold medalist.

The Groveport Recreation Center personal trainer added three more medals to his growing collection of cycling awards following a trio of events in the May 15 local Senior Olympics competition at Highbanks Park. Newland placed first in the one-mile, 5k, and 10k races and is in training for the Ohio Senior Olympics held on July 8 at Caesar Creek State Park.

"This will be a tough year," said Newland. "Since the state Olympics is only held every other year and is a qualifier for nationals, there will be more competitors with more hard-core riders and some who’ve ridden professionally. The 10k time trials will be held on the grounds of the Renaissance Festival, which has some steep hills and is a tough course. I’d be thrilled if I could break 20 minutes. There’s also a 20k road race starting at Caesar Creek Park with a very hilly up and down course.

There will be elite riders with a lot fancier equipment than I have, but it all still boils down to the motor-the cyclist."

His medal count for both local and state competitions since 2001 is 14 gold, six silver, and two bronze.

"I ride one to two hours every day," said Newland, "which is about 15 to 22 miles a day. Right now, I’m averaging 163 miles in one week, which is actually on the low end because of the weather. Typically, I don’t ride more than two hours a day."

Newland was a hardcore runner for years before developing a serious back problem in 1984, when he turned to biking as a recreational outlet. Cycling has since become his passion.

"I wanted to maintain my aerobic capacity, heart, and lung strength and cycling is low impact, except for the knees, but you can adapt for that," said Newland. "Since I don’t swim-I can only dog paddle and that’s why I don’t do triathlons-I decided to take up cycling. I was just going to ride around for fun and fitness. About four years later, I bought a true road bike and realized I could ride a lot faster. I was working as a personal trainer in 2001 and noticed my (cycling) times were dropping, saw a small ad for the Senior Olympics, entered for the first time and won two bronze medals.

"More and more people started showing up at the competitions, so I knew I had to train harder and smarter. The condition I’m in today is far different from when I first started cycling. Now, I can get out there and really crank it up. It’s great for an old guy my age to smoke somebody in a race who’s only in his 50s."

When weather conditions preclude long rides on the road, Newland trains at home with a special device that attaches to his five-year-old racing cycle. His wife, Karen Coakly, occasionally accompanies her husband on rides around the area and on vacation in Utah. However, Newland said their styles are vastly different.

"She’s a sprinter and I’m a long distance rider," said Newland. "I’m the tortoise and she’s the hare, and that’s why I am much better on long distance races versus shorter races."

The longest race Newland’s competed in to date was a 40k in 2004 along a hilly course in Pennsylvania. It was a time trial and he placed 20th out of 50 riders.

However, ask him about his most memorable cycling experiences and you will hear about an incident on an unfamiliar road around Sugar Grove, Ohio, when he climbed a steep hill and couldn’t unclip his shoe in enough time to avoid a spill.

The three-mile walk back to his car and a worried spouse was spent toting a mangled cycle with a serious case of road rash on the left side of his body.

A state meet in 2004 at Three Creeks Metro Park also holds a special place in Newland’s memory when he stayed on the heels of the first place racer the entire way and managed to pass him at the last moment at the finish line.

"When I’m training older folks, I try to promote the Senior Olympics," said Newland, "which is sponsored at the local level by Metro Parks. It always takes place in May, which is Older American’s Month, and includes all kinds of events. The state competition is a serious event, which brings out the hardcore athletes from their 50s to 90s. There are some senior participants in their late 80s and early 90s who are in great shape."

Newland said he watched his parents go from active individuals to a sedentary lifestyle, accompanied by health problems, after they retired. Cycling is his way of avoiding a similar situation, albeit with a spirited edge.

"In my running days," Newland recalled, "I found out I was competitive in my age group. It’s (cycling) now a way to assuage my competitive fires and is an outlet for my competitive instincts. I enjoy competing against myself more so than others, and it’s a sport for loners and I’m somewhat that way."

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