By John Bombatch
BEAVERCREEK — You will rarely see 92-year-old Francis Underwood rolling along at a leisurely pace on the Greene County-area bike paths. Francis prefers to go fast.
“My son likes to look around at the flowers and wildlife … that’s not for me,” Francis laughs. He teases his son Tim, 64, about being too leisurely of a rider to go on the paths with him.
Tim just laughs and agrees. “He’s right. I can’t keep up with him.”
On Tuesday, Francis Underwood won the 80-94 age group of the Ohio Senior Olympic 10-kilometer Time Trial Championships in Springfield.
He’s no stranger to winning bicycle races, however. In 30 years of competition, Underwood has won his share.
Since 1986, Underwood has won four United States Senior Olympics national championships and four U.S.A. Cycling national titles.
His love for bicycling began back in 1974 in Los Angeles, at a time when the country was hit with an oil embargo. Underwood worked for Rockwell International at the time and he needed to get around.
“There were times when you could not buy gasoline for two or three weeks,” he said, Thursday, from his home in Beavercreek. “And so for whatever reason, I got out Tim’s bike and just started riding it everywhere. I’d ride almost every day from Redondo Beach to Santa Monica and back, roughly 50 miles.”
In 1980, Underwood’s other son, Tom, got a horticulture job at Walt Disney World, and Francis moved to Orlando, Fla. to live near him. He joined an Orlando-area bike club and soon found himself riding 5,000 miles a year and competing in local events.
Six years later, he won his first USA Cycling national title — a 40-kilometer time trial event at the Masters Nationals, in Columbus, Ind. He has since competed in Masters Nationals events all over the country, claiming wins three times in Louisville, Ky., and once in Seven Springs, Pa.
“That race in Seven Springs was really hilly,” Underwood said. “There were a few hills that I wasn’t sure I’d get over. So, these days I prefer a flatter course than that one. But I battled through the hills and won that one, too.”
In 2000, Underwood’s cycling career came to a halt when he required quadruple by-pass heart surgery. He noted that his surgery was at the same Orlando Regional Medical Center that treated the Pulse night club shooting victims last week.
Two years of recovery later, and with half an aspirin and a Lipitor pill each day ever since, Underwood is back competing and winning bike races. He proudly displays one of his four red, white and blue national championship rider’s jerseys that he’s won since the operation.
Last Tuesday, Underwood covered the 10-kilometer (6.214 miles) Ohio Senior Olympics time trial distance in 24 minutes, 12 seconds, at an average speed of 15.4 mph.
“I compete in cycling events because I really enjoy it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “I like seeing how fast I can go. Tim, he likes to look around at things and check out the flowers and such. … I’d go faster, but I don’t want to put too much stress on my heart. At my age, that wouldn’t be good.”
Underwood will be 93 in September. He estimated that he’s covered at least 70,000 miles on a bicycle. He doesn’t plan on competing in any more events this season, but he does plan on wheeling his bike around the local bike paths to stay in shape.
Just don’t expect Tim to keep up with him!
John Bombatch can be reached at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123.