Getting an early start with cycling, Norman used to accumulate over 100 miles a week traveling between the village where he lived and his grammar school in Sudbury. His first 100-mile day was a round trip to Huntingdon and back, and in 1939 he made a spontaneous 1,700-mile cycle tour of his home country, England. This impromptu journey began when he was heading to Northumberland to visit relatives, considering he was in the neighborhood, he decided he might as well go and have a look at Edinburgh, from there he continued to John O’Groats, then onward and onward.
In addition to long journeys, Norman also appreciates the tranquil serenity that a ride through the countryside can so reliably provide. Living in the lightly rolling Suffolk landscape, his local lanes are quiet, pretty and favorable for a gentle spin. While he might not be setting any world records, he regularly does between 10 and 20 miles each outing and tracks his distances in a log. But as much as he finds enjoyment and satisfaction in cycling, it is the exercise it offers that drives him out so regularly.
Rarely missing a day, his morning routine consists of breakfast, a quick wash and shave, and getting out on his bike by nine o’clock. Under normal circumstances he heads out with the intention of going for two hours, but if the going is good, he’ll go for three. This regime comes from his firm belief in the fact that human beings, whatever their pretensions, are animals first and foremost. Norman emphasizes the necessity of engaging in a reasonable amount of daily exercise for one’s brain and body. In addition to combating health conditions and diseases, improving mood, and boosting energy, Norman’s daily rides allow him to keep his body feeling strong, even at the age of 94.
It’s an appreciation that did not come easy. During simpler times before the war, Norman considered the Dawes cycle he owned to be his most prized possession. He had parted with almost a month’s wage in order to purchase the beauty, and had even invested in a powerful dynamo light to enhance it. Understandably, he was devastated when the bike was lost by an Australian crew member after being left outside of a dance, but, as is so often the case during times of instability, this frustration was cast into harsh perspective a few days later. On May 23, 1944, Norman and his five crew members were victims of a raid that forced them to evacuate their plane and sent them hurling towards the ground from 23 000ft.
Ten seconds later, after pulling the ripcord, Norman was out cold. His spring-loaded chest-pack parachute had caught him under the chin as it opened. However, he came to while still descending and sustained only a knee injury from an awkward landing in some woods. It was because of this injury that when Norman was turned in to the authorities (he would spend nearly a year as a prisoner of war and survive the 1945 marches), fittingly enough, he was transported to them on the handlebars of a compassionate policeman’s bicycle.
These kinds of experiences bring one a true awareness of how precious and fragile life really is. And it is a deep and impending mindfulness of this fact that keeps him cycling every day. Since 2009, Norman said he’s been exceeding the 5,000-mile mark each year. His story is one of endurance, passion, and what humans are truly capable of. The fact that this veteran has continued with his regime reminds us that as we grow older, the best thing to do is to start using our brains, energy, and the means we have available to us, however limited they may seem, to pursue what matters to us and live the life we desire. How has cycling had a positive impact on your quality of life.