Larry Steiner finds health, friendship in bicycling


Staff writer

Larry Steiner of Tampa has undergone several back surgeries, had a knee replaced, and suffered shoulder and wrist injuries, but he doesn't let that stop him from being active.

The 71-year-old man has been an avid bicycle rider since retirement from his on-the-road trucking job in 1996. He plans to participate in the 2008 Bike Across Kansas event which will begin June 6 at St. Francis in northwest Kansas.

Toward the end of his trucking career, Steiner developed shoulder and arm problems, weighed 265 pounds, and was diagnosed with diabetes. In addition, he was a heavy smoker and had a touch of emphysema.

Dr. Don Hodson, his physician, advised him on how he could improve his health. He suggested he possibly could avoid taking insulin if he lost weight.

Steiner's reaction to the doctor's advice was indicative of his love of life. With the aid of a dietitian, he went on a diet and lost 40 pounds. He also quit smoking.

As a result, his blood sugar stabilized and he didn't need to take insulin.

Steiner is a man with an attitude. He is determined to do what it takes to stay healthy.

"It's hell to be old," he said. "You've got to be tough to be old."

He rides his bike year 'round. When the weather is inclement, he rides a stationary bike. He tries to bike two hours every other day, covering about 60 miles at a time.

Ever since he quit trucking, Steiner and his wife Eunice have spent winter months at Brownsville, Texas. They sold their mobile home there in December and came home.

That's when Steiner decided to take out a membership in Marion Wellness Center.

"I will not sit in this house and do nothing," he said.

The Steiners go the wellness center almost every day of the week, where Eunice, a petite woman four feet, nine inches tall and weighing 97 pounds, works out for an hour or so, and Larry works out for four hours or more.

He has found that increasing his upper-body strength has taken the arthritis out of his shoulder joints and strengthened his heart and lungs.

He said the eliptical machine builds up leg strength and provides exercise for the whole body. He also gets benefits from working his legs with weights.

Ready to go

Steiner has participated in bike rides all over the country including Florida, Texas, Utah, Iowa, New Mexico, and an Erie Canal route into Canada.

His 2008 Bike Across Kansas will be the eighth in 14 years. About 865 people are expected to participate. Riders and non-riders register and pay a fee.

Eunice drives the van and, up until this year, was a SAG ("support and gear") along the route. She manned a stationary spot along each day's route where she passed out ice water and was available to pick up riders, if need be. A SAG is located about every 10 miles.

The Bike Across America event began in June 1975, and has been held annually since then. According to the website (, "BAK 2008 is a recreational and social rally for cyclists. It is not an endurance contest, a race, or a test of stamina. Each rider should set his own pace."

Each year, the ride follows a different route. This year, it begins June 6 at St. Francis and ends June 14 at Atchison. It follows U.S.-36 across the extreme northern part of the state.

There are planned stops every night along the way. Communities prepare for these stops by opening up overnight facilities such as schools and churches and providing food, often as fund-raising events by various church and civic groups. Restaurants also are available and sometimes musical entertainment is provided.

"Most of the little towns are really nice," Eunice said. "They go all out for the bikers."

Sometimes farmers along the way offer parking space, restrooms, and water. And sometimes bikers will veer off the route for a brief time to visit an historic site or check out the scenery.

For some people, the event is a family affair. Several members of the family ride bicycles while others go along in vehicles or campers.

The Steiners choose to sleep in their van overnight. Others pitch tents or stay in campers. Each rider is free to do as he pleases. The riders have a group meeting to prepare for the next day.

Steiner rode a standard bike for years but recently switched to a recumbent bike, in which he sits in a laid-back position.

The couple is looking forward to the BAK.

"It's the people," Steiner said. "We have our biking friends, and often we see them only once a year."

They have biking friends all over the country. Steiner is hoping to do a ride in Wisconsin later this summer.

The couple also enjoy dancing. They travel quite often to Missouri to participate in weekend dances set to country western music.

Steiner provides light maintenance for the city of Tampa. He mows grass and keeps the burn site in order.

Steiner obviously agrees with the concept that, "If you don't use it, you'll lose it." He summed up his philosophy of life in these simple words: "You've got to have an attitude."