At 89, Ferdinand man keeps on spinning

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Jim Rowden of Ferdinand, 89, usually starts working out around 6 a.m. at the Tri-County YMCA and twice a week participates in the RPM cycling class, as he did on Tuesday morning in Ferdinand. "We have 30 minute and 45 minute RPM classes but Jim doesn't come to the 30 minute, it's not long enough for him," said the RPM class instructor, Rachel Berg of Ferdinand. "He's pretty amazing."


FERDINAND — At 89 years old, Ferdinand man Jim Rowden isn’t throwing in the towel. Through his hard work in a local indoor cycling class, he’s inspiring others to stay physically and socially active.

The Dubois County transplant has cycled in one form or another for six decades. He now works out at the Tri-County YMCA six days a week and actively attends the facility’s RPM (cycling) classes on Tuesdays and Fridays, which feature 45 straight minutes of climbing, sprinting and sweat-drenching action — enough to break down even the most physically fit.

But it’s hard to find an excuse to skip when Rowden sits tall on his bike day in and day out. The 30-minute indoor cycling class — also known as a spinning class — isn’t enough for him, and he needs the extra 15 minutes for a satisfying workout. Not to mention he usually gets to the gym more than two hours before the class starts to work out on weight machines and other gym equipment.

“You look at Jim and think, well, no,” said Rachel Berg, the class’ instructor. “I don’t (have an excuse).”

Berg described Rowden as a motivator who “fits right into the class.” Though she doesn’t hold attendees to a required pace or gear setting on their bikes, when the music starts and the wheels start turning, he keeps up and chugs through the session with his classmates.

Rowden was born in California where he raised five children. While they were still young, his late wife died from breast cancer. A few years after she passed, he remarried, later retired and moved to Virginia Beach with his second wife, Jannette. The two came to Ferdinand six years ago to be closer to Jannette’s son, Robert Alvis. Rowden has been a member of the Tri-County YMCA’s RPM class ever since.

He started cycling regularly in 1988 — when he would go on journeys longer than 50 miles to the Folsom Dam in Folsom, California — and picked up cycling classes in 1992 in Virginia. He also has memories of riding as a child, in high school and throughout his life. He avoids cycling on roads these days because of the danger that comes with riding in traffic.

Rowden adjusts his bike's tension during a 45 minute class at the YMCA on Tuesday morning.

Jill Schnitker of Holland has attended the RPM classes at the local YMCA for a year and a half. She said when she first started going to them, she was “pleasantly surprised” by Rowden’s commitment to keeping in shape as he approached his ninth decade of life.

“He is an inspiration to all of us,” said Schnitker, 62. “It’s not just his physical abilities, it’s the mental (abilities). He’s very current on events happening around the world. He always has something to share with us. He’s just a real inspiration — we all say that we hope that we can be as active as he is when we’re in our late 80s.”

Many of the class’ participants are in their 60s and 70s and have seen their parents’ health decline. Seeing him stay active and social shows Schnitker that life can still be full, even late in life. Rowden has a positive demeanor and is always the first person to help newcomers adjust their bikes and welcome them to the class, she said.

“We always ask him what his secret is,” Schnitker said, “and he says keep doing what you’re doing. I thought that was encouraging to us.”

While Rowden admits he isn’t close to where he was physically 20 years ago when he’d crank out many more miles in one sitting and burn over 600 calories in an hour, he’s still trucking. In addition to working out regularly, he spoke on the importance of eating well to extend life. But hey, in his words, he’s only 89.

“(I’m) still walking,” Rowden said. “Just gotta keep going and keep feeling good.”

Rowden rests in-between songs during the 45 minute class led by Rachel Berg of Ferdinand at the YMCA on Tuesday morning.

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