Joe Spradlin felt like he was in a scene from “Smokey and the Bandit.”
He was riding his bike in Florida, en route to St. Augustine, when he was pulled over by a county sheriff’s officer.
“Where you from, boy?” the officer asked in a Southern drawl.
“Kansas,” Joe replied.
“You rode all the way here from Kansas?” the officer asked.
“Worse,” Joe replied. “San Diego, California.”
It was 1994, and Joe was a young pup, in his mid-60s. Now 80, he and his 79-year-old wife, Rita, continue to make fitness part of their regular routines. Joe bikes 20 to 30 miles a day, and Rita walks four to six miles a day.
“We’re both exercise nuts,” Joe says.
The Spradlins have been married for 61 years and have lived in Lawrence for the past 15 years.
Before he retired in 1995 from the Bureau of Child Research, now the Institute for Lifespan Studies at Kansas University, Joe rode his bike to work when the weather allowed. During winter months he was restricted to riding on the weekends. Chopping firewood was his only other source of exercise.
Beyond physical conditioning and the ability to eat and drink more, Joe sees real benefits from his love of riding.
“I don’t need Zoloft or Prozac,” Joe says. “Biking is very good for my mental health. And I notice that when I don’t bike, I become a little bit more irritable, lay around more and just (have) minor symptoms of depression.”
Joe thinks the city is bike-friendly but could do more to provide quality biking conditions. A complete loop with radials into the city would be most beneficial for people commuting to work, he says.
Spradlin also thinks more employers should offer showers for their employees to use after riding to work.
Made for walking
Rita, who has been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, suffered two heart attacks and underwent her first of two bypass surgeries in 1985. Three days a week, she meets the Jabber Walkers at the Lied Center to walk three to four miles on the KU campus. The group of women has developed a close bond and often travel together, including a trip to Paris.
When she’s not on campus, Rita walks 6 miles through her neighborhood. She plans to incorporate weight-lifting back into her regular routine now that her fractured back is healed, an injury she sustained while doing abdominal crunches. Rita enjoys the “beautiful scenery, wildlife and various flowers and trees” along her route.
”Another benefit of walking is that it keeps the hips slim, in addition to strengthening your bones and making you feel good,” Rita says.
Stories from the road
That incident in Florida occurred while Joe was on a 36-day ride across the country. Rita drove their car, which was stocked with fruit and snacks for Joe and a backseat full of books for her. Besides reading, Rita often found places to get out and walk while waiting for Joe to meet her.
Joe arrived in St. Augustine on Valentine’s Day.
“There could not have been a better Valentine’s gift than to see that bike go on top of the car rack,” Rita says.
These days, Joe enjoys riding the scenic river road toward Lecompton and often stops at the home of Randy and Barbara Schwering for coffee and good conversation. Randy Schwering describes Joe as a fixture in the neighborhood, and his love of cycling has earned him the nickname “Ironman Joe.”
“Joe is an inspiration to me,” Schwering says. “He inspires me to stay in shape. He is a living testament of how you do it.”
Schwering also admires Joe’s contribution to his field while working at KU and his continued dedication to volunteering.
“Joe lives with a commitment to helping other people,” Schwering says. “He’s a role model.”
Diet is also important to the Spradlins. Rita enjoys cooking for visitors because she always tries something new.
“I feel very good if I can make a successful dessert because I don’t eat desserts usually,” Rita says. “I like the challenge of making a really good dessert without all the fat and sugar.”
“We both find that we feel better if we eat her cooking than when we go out to a restaurant,” Joe says.
Rita modifies recipes to make them more heart-healthy, like substituting applesauce for oil.
“Another way she keeps the fat and sodium down is she cooks nearly everything from scratch,” Joe says.
“It takes more time in the kitchen, but it’s a good way to spend it,” Rita says.
Beyond exercising, the Spradlins spend their time gardening, reading and traveling. Rita also enjoys volunteering for multiple organizations, including Meals on Wheels, community theater and the Lied Center.
“I think that’s one reason why I always feel so well because I love to be out in the public, and I love to volunteer,” Rita says. “I think my involvement with other people has kept me healthier.”
The Spradlins are never at a loss for something to do. Living a healthy lifestyle affords them the ability to stay active in the community.
“We love going to the Lied Center and the Dole Institute for lectures and seeing all the great personalities that they bring into the community,” Rita says. “It’s so wonderful living in Lawrence, because every day you have to make decisions and choices about you’re going to do.”