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AT 57, BIKE RIDER INSPIRES BOOMERS

Tim Stedem has one of those great names that morphs naturally into a description of exactly what he is.

The "Sted'' in Stedem rhymes with the "stead'' in steady, so even we oxygen-deprived cyclists have been able to come up with the obvious nickname: Steady Tim.

He's always there on the Wednesday and Sunday rides that leave from San Antonio and loop north through Spring Lake. He's also a regular on three other rides in Hillsborough County, all of them fast and competitive, racking up a total of more than 200 miles per week. Throw in two or three short runs and a couple of visits to the gym, and it's no wonder that he's steadily excellent, too.

For example, the Sunday ride, which I do almost as often as Stedem and have done for almost as long - a dozen years - usually unfolds like this: I pedal south to meet a pack of 40 or 50 riders somewhere around the Pasco-Hernando line. After a couple of hills, I get dropped and take a shortcut with the rest of the stragglers, the "B'' group, and stop for a needed break just in time to see the "A'' group streak by.

There's Joel Chavez, a former rider for the Cuban national team and the 2007 Florida state road racing champion, and maybe a dozen other chiseled, young riders on bikes costing slightly less than a new car and weighing slightly more than a newborn baby.

And, right with them, or just a few yards back, is Steady Tim, with his comparatively ancient bike and thin calf muscles, and a curtain of blond-gray hair hanging down from the back of his helmet.

That, maybe, will give you a clue as to why I'm writing about this guy, even though he lives in Brandon and works as the service manager at his brother's Ford dealership in Fort Meade.

He's 57 and can still say, "I'm riding as well as I ever have.''

I've just turned 50, an age when you can ride for hours wondering about the creaking sound coming from your bike before you realize it's your knee. Basically, he gives me hope.

I guess it can seem desperate, all those hours on the bike and in the gym. But for one thing, Stedem is wired the way I am, so working out is no more a chore than taking care of other needs, like eating a meal or going to bed at night.

For another, Steady Tim could just as easily be known as Talking Tim. He talks about his son, who works for NASA. He talks about his daughter, a graduate student in Middle Eastern studies. And - usually when we're climbing a hill and I'm so gassed I can only nod in reply - he talks about editorials in our paper I haven't read.

"In most of the groups I ride with, I know everybody,'' Stedem said. "When I go to a ride, all the people say, 'Hey, Tim, how are you doing?' That's a big part of it for me.''

Because I always thought of Stedem as someone who fights relentlessly against age, he shocked me by saying that he won't be able to do it much longer, at least not quite as successfully. "It's all downhill from here,'' he said.

I was also surprised he didn't seem that bothered by this, as if being supremely fit and fast isn't the secret after all.

He's recently started taking slow-paced rides with his wife, Nancy, he said, and, "I enjoy it as much as I do any of the group rides. ... Really, there's no kind of riding I don't like, other than riding alone.''

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