‘Some doctors thought I would not be at the fitness level I am today.’
Not much can slow down 72-year-old Jan Meulenkamp — not the COVID-19 pandemic, and not a bone-shattering cycling accident that almost sidelined him permanently seven years ago.
The challenge to cycle around the world came from a friend.
“A friend of mine that I’ve done a lot of cycling with, Paula Clark, read about someone that rode virtually around the globe, and she says, ‘I bet you we could do that,'” Meulenkamp said.
“She challenged me. I accepted the challenge.”
They started on July 1, 2019, with Meulenkamp’s goal to finish by his 75th birthday, in 2025.
But he is about to reach the finish line, having travelled the equivalent of Earth’s circumference of 40,075 kilometres, more than two years ahead of schedule.
“I needed something to do during COVID,” he said. “I focused not on the end goal, but just setting goals, and steps along the way.”
‘We call him Superman’
Meulenkamp has a close-knit group of supporters who have cycled many kilometres by his side, including friend Kevin (Boomer) Gallant.
“Jan is an inspiration to many, including myself,” Gallant said.
“We call him, a few of us here, Superman. And he has all the credentials to be Superman, just watching this trek around the world.”
A big part of Meulenkamp’s recent story is an accident that sent him to hospital, and almost ended his time on the bicycle.
“I crashed in Las Vegas seven years ago this week, and it was a setback,” Meulenkamp said.
“It was eight weeks in bed. [I] broke my pelvis in several places, and had to be medevac-ed to Halifax for surgery, and I had to spend eight weeks in bed. But three months to the day of my surgery, I was back on the bike.”
Meulenkamp said doctors weren’t sure he would make a full recovery.
“I was told it was possible, but some doctors thought I would not be at the fitness level I am today, but I just kept persevering, and got through it,” he said.
“I think they’re amazed that I’m doing it at all, really. One of those doctors is our son. He’s an orthopedic surgeon in Ottawa, and even after I started to cycle again, he says, ‘I don’t understand it,'” Meulenkamp said.
“He has faith in me now, because I’ve proven that it’s possible.”
‘We need more Jans’
Meulenkamp’s recovery has been inspirational for the people who watched him come back after the accident.
“Personally, I feel like I am really crushing it if I can keep within two gears of Jan, let alone within a few-100,000 kilometres, or however many he’s done,” said Jan Rogerson, who has done a 6 a.m. cycling class with Meulenkamp for years.
“We need more Jans. Jan is a is a force of good. He’s a positive inspiration. Here he is in his seventies, cycling us under the table every single day.”
Many of the kilometres have been in the cycling studio, but he’s also a regular on roadways across Prince Edward Island, including lots of group rides.
“It’s real dedication. I cycle about 5,000 kilometres a year. Jan puts me to shame, really,” said Kaaren May, who has been cycling with him since moving to P.E.I. in 2016.
“It was really a lifesaver during COVID. Cycling was one way that we kept our sanity, just occasionally going together as a group.”
“I can only hope that when I reach age of 70, I’m still as active as Jan… and I’m really proud of this important milestone in his life.”
The end of the challenge is now in sight, with Jan Meulenkamp slowing down so that friends and family can join him for the final kilometres.
“I expect to finish on March 25th — and after that, what next? I don’t know. I’m going to continue cycling, that’s for sure.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca
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