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Fifty April14 Feature

Richmond resident Bob Lang has been a bicycling nut since the age of 6, growing up in the Bronx, N.Y. He hasnít been off the bike much since, except for a few years when he and wife Amy, who he married in 1957, were raising three young children. Even now, at 78 years old, his enthusiasm for cycling continues.

He does admit though, that heís slowed down some over the years: "I can still bike all day long... (but) I have to rest more. The biggest thing is it takes me longer to recover."

Lang used to commute to work daily on his bike (from 1972 until he retired in 1998), a distance of more than 13 miles each way when he worked in Hartford, Conn., and also after moving to Richmond in 1985, when he worked downtown.

Biking was a way to get his daily exercise and keep his weight down. It also saved him money in fuel costs, and reduced his carbon footprint.

In his younger years (up to age 70), Lang enjoyed running, too. He competed six times in the annual Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, and has run the Richmond Marathon and several other full and half marathons, too.

After retirement in 1998, Lang realized a lifelong dream to bicycle across the United States. He did it in 1999 as part of an organized group of 51, and it took him 46 days to pedal 3,171 miles. His wife, Amy, came along as the cook for the riders.

Lang completed his second cycling trip across the nation in 2002, riding from Carlsbad, Calif., to Brunswick, Ga., in 37 days of biking with just three days of rest. This was a shorter route, just 2,453 miles.

His last trip across the country was in 2009. It was the longest trek, 3,857 miles, from San Francisco to Portsmouth, N.H., and involved 47 biking days with five rest days. He also biked that year down to Key West, Fla. That was a self-contained trip, meaning he carried everything he needed on the bike, so no support vehicles were needed.

In 2010, Lang completed another trip to Key West, from Richmond.

When not on a bike, youíre likely to find Lang and his wife engrossed in a book. Each reads more than 50 books a year and they are members of the Gayton Library Book Club in Henrico.

Lang also is involved in various charity and volunteer work at his church and local hospitals. Heís a former Faithful Navigator, in charge of the 4th degree of the Knights of Columbus, for Richmond.

The secret to aging well, according to Lang, is "Exercise, eat well, and have a great spouse."

His diet includes vegetarian meals and pasta, but also some meat, and a glass or two of red wine at dinner.

He takes a multivitamin and glucosamine pill (may help the joints) daily.

He has good genes, too: His Dad lived to age 98 and his Mom to 96.

Lang said he has had remarkably few accidents or serious injuries while cycling. He was once sideswiped by a car, so hard a hit that it knocked the side mirror off the driverís car, but Lang was left unharmed. He figures that a Guardian Angel must have gotten between him on the bike and the car.

Lang has done his part, too. He has helped and mentored many people in his life. One grateful friend of his says that Lang was his "Guardian Angel" when he needed one.

Lang still has the energy level and stamina of an athlete half his age. Itís not easy keeping up with him, on or off the bike. You never know where Bob may pop up next, either. So if youíre out driving and come across a senior cyclist wearing blue denim shorts and "clip in" sandals cruising down the road, it may well be Lang. Youíd better give him plenty of room when you pass (as you should all cyclists), because that darn Guardian Angel will be watching!

Afternoons with Bob

I first got to know Bob and his wife, Amy, at the monthly Gayton Library book club meetings.

Amy was the one who first told me that Bob was into bicycling, in a big way. She said he had biked across America on three separate occasions since heíd retired.

I was intrigued, especially since I used to be an avid cyclist years ago, and I wanted to get back into it.

I spoke to Bob about maybe getting together for a ride. He gave me his card, and said to call him sometime.

I did, and he graciously agreed to serve as the subject of a video I made for a photo documentary class. The result was "Aging Well, A Portrait of Bob Lang". It was well received in my class and Bob and Amy liked it enough to send the YouTube link to it out to their friends and family. Bob would e-mail me from time to time, and forward comments that he received from friends who had viewed the video.

It was gratifying to me that I was helping Bob to re-connect with old friends. We started going on weekly bike rides together around Henrico and Goochland.

I was fairly fit, but not in great shape for riding distances over 10 miles, so he would take it easy on me at first by mapping out shorter rides. He came up with progressively longer routes for us in the weeks following, until I was comfortable riding for several hours on a trip. We would pack a lunch and some snacks and go out for 4 or 5 hours or longer.

Once, when I was slightly ahead of Bob on a ride, I saw a woman on the sidewalk holding a sign and motioning. I didnít think much of it, other than it seemed unusual, and I rode past her, thinking more about the sandwich I would make when I got home.

But Bob stopped to talk to the woman. I then stopped too, a little further up the road, and watched.

When Bob finally joined me, I asked him what the women had said. It turns out she was hitchhiking to Charlottesville, and she wanted to know if she was on the right road. Bob had told her, "No", that she needed to walk back to the last big intersection and go left.

Bob then asked her if she needed any money. He found a couple of dollars and a card for a free fast food sandwich, in his wallet, all of which he gave to the woman.

After hearing this story, I felt a bit ashamed, that my instinct was to ride past the woman so I could fill my stomach sooner. I told myself that I would learn from Bobís example, and that the next time I found myself in a similar situation, I would stop, to see if I could help.

Thatís the kind of guy Bob is. Heís a positive role model in so many ways. Itís nice having a friend like him.

ALL ABOUT BOB

WHO: Bob Lang

AGE: 78

OCCUPATION: Retired from Virginia state government in 1998

FAMILY: Wife, Amy; two sons and one daughter, four grandchildren

FITNESS REGIMEN: Works out at American Family Fitness 5 to 7 times a week; bikes daily, weather permitting

RECOMMENDED READING: "Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy - Until Youíre 80 and Beyond", by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D.

"Ageless Body, Timeless Mind", by Deepak Chopra

"Being the Best", by Denis Waitley

"Earth Abides", by George R. Stewart

QUOTE: "Age is a state of mind" (on his Cycling Road ID bracelet)

BOB LANGíS TIPS FOR GETTING BACK ON THE BIKE

- Check with your doctor, and make sure you get a physical every year

- Listen to your body

- Go slow, and build up gradually

- Just do your own thing, donít worry about other people

SEE IT: Watch a video about Bob Lang at http://vimeo.com/80438321