Each month we highlight one of our Golden Rollers with a photo and short interview. Our conversations explore personal histories and address how staying active has benefitted their health and well-being as they grow older. This month we meet Robert Walker.
If you walk past the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center in East Austin on any given weekday morning, there’s a good chance you’ll see 82-year-old Robert Walker playing basketball in the courtyard. For nearly an hour you could watch him line up 10 feet out from the baseline and sink shot after shot, nothing but net. What you would not see are the 100-plus medals Robert has hanging in his home from winning Senior Olympics events.
Name: Robert Walker
Hometown: Austin, TX
Bike Experience: Biked while growing up in east Austin. Doesn’t ride much now.
Golden Rollers: “You’re 82-years-old?”
Robert Walker: “Mhm. The Lord blessed me. I just love exercising.”
GR: “You’re a sharpshooter. I’ve seen you [playing basketball]. How long do you shoot for?”
RW: “I’ll shoot for an hour. I’ll shoot 20 straight. I’ll shoot 30-something straight. I can’t shoot as far out as I used to though. I turned down a scholarship in college. I was buying a new car, and at 26-years-old, I was buying a house. And I worked 8 hours [a day] and was taking 17 hours [of classes] a semester. It was impossible. I had to turn down the scholarship to play basketball… I didn’t have the time.”
GR: “You’ve stayed active.”
RW: “All my life. For over 50 years I cut the yard for the church, didn’t charge them anything, just exercise.”
GR: “When did you start doing the Senior Games?”
RW: “I came down [to Conley-Guerrero] in 1994. A few months later in ‘95, they took me down to San Antone to enter, that’s when I got into the Senior Olympics. I was 62 when I went in. I stayed in it 14 years and won a whole lot of medals in 5 different sports. I won over 100 medals. They give you medals for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. I won 50-something 1st place in 5 different sports.”
GR: “Do you have all the medals?”
RW: “Yeah, the medals are home hanging on the wall.”
We had an extra special morning today. Our friend and filmmaker Lucy Kreutz joined the ride to shoot footage for a potential short documentary. It was very exciting for our featured rollers, one of whom exclaimed that she had “always wanted to be a movie star!”
We got creative with the equipment on hand:
Stay tuned to see what happens with the documentary project!
What a fun morning! Our friend J.P. Taboadad brought out his pedicab (or “bike with a couch on the back,” as we called it) and gave rides to some of the attendees at Conley-Guerrero who are unable to ride our trikes. The pedicab was incredibly popular, with over a dozen people taking turns laughing down the trail.
It was a great experience for all involved, including our regular participants, and is something we definitely plan to do again. Check out this video of some of the regular rollers:
What a morning! Our rides along the Boggy Creek Greenbelt typically stop and turn around when the trail hits Rosewood Avenue, but not today. The weather was so gorgeous and the riders were feeling strong, so we kept going…
…over the bridge and through the woods…
…all the way to 12th Street. All things told, it was a 1.6-mile loop. Not a bad way to start a Thursday. 🙂
We had our second and third Orientation Classes for New Rollers at Conley-Guerrero this morning and energy was high. It’s hard to believe how much interest we have seen from the community. Sixteen new Rollers were introduced to the basics of trike maneuvering and are now geared up for future trail riding. (Safety Tip: If you ever feel out of control, just squeeze the breaks and voilà – you are just sitting in a chair!)
Among the new Rollers was 94-year-old Frymlee Cannon, who had never ridden a bicycle in her life. What a great time to get started! Way to go Mrs. Cannon!
It’s happening! The Golden Rollers of Conley-Guerrero Senior Center officially kicked off the spring season with our first Orientation Class for New Rollers this morning. The group shared stories about their cycling pasts and discussed expectations for the program before trying out the trikes in the parking lot. Everyone in attendance was approved for the Trails & More Classes and we can’t wait to start rolling!
We partnered with Easy Rider Pedicabs to provide a free bike-based shuttle service for seniors dressed to the nines and heading to the Conley-Guerrero Holiday Luncheon presented by the Austin Fire Department and Meals on Wheels and More. Building community one bike ride at a time!
We had so much fun riding with the all seniors; they had a blast as well. VIP car-to-door service, perfect weather, good food, and longtime friends. What else could you ask for!
A big thanks to Tim LaFuente (Austin Fire Department, retired) and Gladys Runnels (Recreation Programs Supervisor, Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center) for inviting us to be a part of your event.
You can read about the launch of this program at the Conley-Gurrero Senior Activity Center (808 Nile Street – 512-978-2660) in the original announcement post below.
We had an overwhelming response at the program launch with 47 seniors signing up to ride the five trikes. The first session consisted of seven classes: four orientations and three trail rides. Riders first needed to participate in and pass an orientation class to ensure they had sufficient hand strength to stop the trikes as well as the leg strength and balance to ride in a safe and controlled manner. 31 of 38 participants passed the orientation sessions.
These classes consisted of 30 minutes of classroom-based instruction and then 30 minutes riding in a parking lot to develop starting, stopping, turning, and obstacle-avoidance skills. Only 15 graduates were able to participate in the first three trail rides as participation is limited based on the small number of trikes available. All six classes in Session 2, which runs in November and December, will be ride-based so that all of the graduates will have a chance to ride the Boggy Creek Trail or the Pedernales All Ages and Abilities Bikeway.
Our oldest rider is 89 and our youngest is in her 50s. The vast majority (something like 90%) of the riders are women, and we have had at least four or five people who had never ridden a bike before in their life – not even as kids. Many of our riders hadn’t ridden since they were teenagers or even younger.
It has been inspiring to witness so many of our active seniors finding joy in rediscovering (or experiencing for the first time) the freedom a bike or trike can bring, tackling and mastering a new skill, overcoming the fear of trying to do something they thought they had lost the ability (or were told they were too old) to do, and taking pride in their accomplishment.
And a big shout out to Gladys Runnels and the Parks and Rec crew at Conley-Guerrero, Mercedes, Preston, Becky of Bike Austin, and Camille of Black Girls Do Bike who are helping make this program an ongoing success!
The idea for this program began in the spring of 2014 with the approval and initiation of the Pedernales Protected Bikeway. This created the opportunity to provide bicycle-based, low-impact recreation, exploration, and active transportation for members of the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center. Ghisallo Cycling Initiative received five adult trikes to be able to provide safe outdoor recreation to students with mobility and developmental challenges. These trikes also provide the perfect platform for older individuals who either cannot or do not want to ride a traditional bicycle due to fall risks but would like to receive the same health and mobility benefits cycling provides.
Consider a future-use case where a senior who uses public transportation to arrive at the center can participate in a ride on the Pedernales Protected Bikeway to HEB to buy groceries for a day or two. Upon returning to the center, they can store the groceries in the fridge, and take their bags home on the bus, sparing them a separate trip. All the provided trikes have integrated baskets which make this task an easy one.
More active seniors will be able to ride to Lady Bird Lake to check out the ducks, sit on a bench looking at the lake, and enjoy some shade next to the water. If access issues across the Longhorn Dam are ever resolved and an all ages and all abilities route is developed, participants would be able to visit the south shore peninsula, scenic overlook, and gazebo in addition to exploring the The Trail Foundation’s recently completed Boardwalk.
The program will begin with five adult trikes for participants plus a loaned B-Cycle bicycle for a Conley-Guerrero staff member to ride along with the group of participants and instructors. Trikes, bikes, helmets, pumps, basic tools, and parts to maintain the fleet will be stored on-site. Prospective participants will need to complete an initial equipment and safety orientation as well as a riding proficiency check prior to participating in off-site rides. The adult education component will be provided with assistance from Bike Austin. The trikes and equipment will also be used to provide bicycle access to youth with developmental challenges as needed.
The trikes were partially funded by Chameleon Cold Brew and were assembled as part of a Chameleon Cold Brew team building event assisted by eight Earn-A-Bike and Bike Club participants at the Boys and Girls Club of Austin East Club who helped un-box and build them. Final adjustments, make-ready work, and safety checks were donated by East Side Pedal Pushers. The trikes were then delivered to Conley-Guerrero by youth Bike Club members Larenz, Denzel, and Quentin. Formal project unveiling will be the first week of August with a program start mid-September once the senior center switches over to its fall schedule.
Assuming high demand and a successful program, there are opportunities to expand to new locations as well as to grow the trike fleet to include front-load trikes that can carry two passengers. Programs using the passenger trikes and volunteer riders have been successful in Europe as a way to build community and provide access to the outdoors for mobility-restricted seniors for whom riding a bike or a trike may not be of interest or even an option. A video profiling a senior passenger passenger-style of program is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6Ti4qUa-OU
A very successful program serving youth with sight impairment and/or blindness has been provided by Social Cycling’s Lend Your Legs group for the School for the Blind in Austin since 2011. Check out a video about their program: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBoMekY35pc
The Conley-Guerrero crew posing with the sweet new trikes:
Chameleon Cold Brew + Boys And Girls Club Earn-A-Bike & Bike Club building trikes:
Boys And Girls Club Earn-A-Bike and Bike Club delivering the trikes:
Austin Bike Share B-Cycle bike for a Conley-Guerrero staff member to be able to ride along: