Senior Games cyclist; pioneering elite competition for generations

Walt Schafer of Chico, California, cools down after the time trials event in the cycling competition of the Huntsman World Senior Games, St. George, Utah, Oct. 8, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – The 28th year of the Huntsman World Senior Games is well underway and participants from all over the country and the world have come to St. George to test their athletic prowess and prove the adage “you don’t stop because you grow old, you grow old because you stop.”

Walt Schafer pauses for a photo after the time trials event in the cycling competition of the Huntsman World Senior Games, St. George, Utah, Oct. 8, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
Walt Schafer pauses for a photo after the time trials event in the cycling competition of the Huntsman World Senior Games, St. George, Utah, Oct. 8, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

For cyclist Walt Schafer, this wisdom has held true throughout his life. Now 75-years-old, Schafer said his athletic endeavors began at a very young age.

“I was a runner for 55 years,” Schafer said, “from the time I was 10 years old.”

During his lifetime Schafer competed in track and field competitions in the half-mile and mile running on a full scholarship through college at the University of Michigan and continuing into his adult years, racing distances ranging from the mile to marathons – Schafer has completed 17 marathons.

In his 60s Schafer started feeling burned out from running, he said, and partly due to his wife’s interest in cycling, he switched sports.

“Running was fun but now this is a whole other world,” Schafer said of cycling, “and I am really enjoying it, I think I could keep doing it for many years to come.”

Both Schafer and his wife, Teresa Kludt, compete in a 4-day cycling event that sees riders racing in a hill climb, a time trial, a criterium and a road race. Competitors compete in age groups divided into 5-year increments and within each group there are three divisions, or levels, of competitors.

Schafer competes in Division II in the male 75-79 age group and Kludt races Division I in the female 55-59 age group.

The couple that rides together

Schafer and Kludt have been married for 31 years, Schafer said. They live on a small “hobby” farm in Chico, California, at the base of the Sierra Nevadas where they raise goats and other animals to make and sell yarn.

Walt Schafer photographs his wife, Teresa Kludt before she takes off from the start line of the time trials portion of the cycling competition in the Huntsman World Senior Games, St. George, Utah, Oct. 8, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
Walt Schafer photographs his wife, Teresa Kludt before she takes off from the start line of the time trials portion of the cycling competition in the Huntsman World Senior Games, St. George, Utah, Oct. 8, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Schafer is a retired sociology professor and Kludt a former district attorney. Both of them love cycling and are equally supportive and complimentary of one another.

“We ride together most of the time and we pull each other, some days I am better, some days she is better,” Schafer said, “but when it comes to competition, she is a degree above me …she is a dynamo on a bike.”

The couple comes to the games both to race and to enjoy the area, building a mini vacation around the competition, Schafer said.

“It is a beautiful community to come to,” Kludt said, “and it is fun to do it as a couple.”

Competition, inspiration, pioneering a sporting generation

For this riding duo, coming to the senior games represents a chance to compete against athletes of their own age, particularly for Schafer, who at 75 still rides with guys who are 30 or 40 years younger than he is both in training and in master’s cycling competitions.

“It is great, (the games) present an opportunity that we wouldn’t have otherwise to compete against people our own age,” Schafer said. “There is an age grading with the 5-year intervals that makes it really fun and everyone can have the feeling they are doing pretty well.”

Bikes are hung on a rack at the cycling competition of the Hunstman World Senior Games, St. George, Utah, Oct. 8, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
Bikes are hung on a rack at the cycling competition of the Hunstman World Senior Games, St. George, Utah, Oct. 8, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Schafer and Kludt both ride at a high level of competition, not just for their age, but overall and that is something, Schafer said, he is proud of.

But despite their considerable skill, Kludt said, they can always get better and that is something that is so inspiring about the games.

“You see people even older than you who are fitter,” Kludt said, “and that is so inspiring, I can still get better, I don’t have to give up.”

Those sentiments are ones that Schafer embodies with words that he called his mantra.

“Just keep doing it,” Schafer said.

Throughout their years of racing at the games, the couple has made many friends who continue to come back year after year building a spirit of community through competition and pioneering a legacy of athletic pursuits that have spanned generations.

Schafer summed up a conversation he had with a friend, an 81-year-old cyclist, who is still competing in the games as well as bicycle touring France every summer with these words.

“In a way we are pioneers to have maintained a high level of competition throughout generations,” Schafer said, “I think that is true of all the athletes here and I am proud to be one of them.”

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Resources

  • For more information about the Huntsman World Senior Games click here

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