Air Force veteran and gold medal cyclist shows what ‘excellent’ health looks like at the age of 95

A former U.S. Air Force pilot and cycling enthusiast is competing at the age of 95 and has shared his positive outlook on life, health, and exercise that keeps him going.

Jack Eckenrode was born in November 1928 and was raised in Mount Lebanon in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh. Today, he lives in Bulger, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh with a population of just 300.

Mr. Eckenrode will turn 96 this year but still competes in the National Senior Games in both the cycling and running categories. He has competed every second year for the last 18 years, and at the Games in Florida in 2022 he took home gold for the first time.

“I’m gonna shoot for four or five golds this year if I can. I’m getting greedy!” he told The Epoch Times.

Jack Eckenrode at the 2022 National Senior Games.
Jack Eckenrode at the 2022 National Senior Games. (Courtesy of Susan Rendulic via National Senior Games)

Mr. Eckenrode participates in the biking category and also runs the 50-yard (45-meter) and 100-yard (91-meter) dash.

To stay competition-ready, Mr. Eckenrode, who has maintained a steady weight of 175 pounds (79 kilograms) for decades, has an exercise routine that he attributes to his time in the service. After graduating from Mount Lebanon High School, he attended university, and from there spent five years as a pilot for the Air Force where he learned calisthenics daily.

“I went through the Air Force aviation cadet program to become a pilot, and that takes a full year,” the Korean War veteran said. “I took primary flying down in Florida, and then I ended up in Oklahoma City, graduating to get my wings and my commission. We exercised every day as it was one of the things you had to do when you were in the cadet program.”

And, as it turns out, Mr. Eckenrode has continued to do the same exercise routine including the calisthenics they taught them to do, which is from your head to your toes, and he admits that it makes him feel really good.

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Mr. Eckenrode when he was in the Air Force. (Courtesy of Susan Rendulic via National Senior Games)

Today, Mr. Eckenrode tries to make sure he bikes as often as possible on Panhandle Trail next to his farmhouse, a property that he bought with his first wife, fellow medal-winning cyclist, Margaret Eckenrode, when he was “winding down” at the age of 60. If the weather is bad he makes sure to peddle for 20 minutes each day on his stationary bike at home.

Mr. Eckenrode’s health was tested in early 2023, but the veteran bounced back.

“I had a heart attack in January and they gave me two stents in my heart,” he said. “But honestly, I’m normal as ever. I mean, I have to brag; I can’t believe that happened to me and I’m doing everything that I did before.”

However, he believes he has been “lucky,” as he’s had “excellent” health.

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Mr. Eckenrode with his late wife, Margaret Eckenrode, in 2015. (Courtesy of Susan Rendulic via National Senior Games)

Mr. Eckenrode was always an active child. He worked a paper round on his bicycle and played softball and football through high school. After being “lucky enough” to have 12 kids that were all healthy, the veteran became an active dad, attending sports events and summer camps with his children. Today, he spectates.

“I love baseball, and that’s my primary thing right now; watching baseball or going to a baseball game,” he said. “In the wintertime, it’s football. … After football has sort of petered out, I hang on to hockey. All year round, I can hardly wait to get the morning paper to look for sports.”

Mr. Eckenrode on his cycle tour.
(Courtesy of Susan Rendulic via National Senior Games)

The veteran, who has 42 grandchildren and 49 great-grandchildren, left the Air Force at 28 and started selling insurance while Ms. Eckenrode, a nurse, worked and raised their children. When the couple approached retirement and relocated to Pittsburgh, they signed up for the National Senior Games for the first time.

Together they toured Louisville, Kentucky, Birmingham, Alabama, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and more places they “never would have seen” if it weren’t for the Games.

“We even biked across the Golden Gate Bridge … I was thrilled,” Mr. Eckenrode said. “In Albuquerque, we had a chance to see the big balloons … We went to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Every town has its own little thing, like, we went up to Cleveland and we saw the rock ‘n roll museum up there.”

Ms. Eckenrode passed away in 2021 at the age of 91, declining swiftly after suffering from heart problems. However, even without his beloved, Mr. Eckenrode continued riding the trails to stay fit and healthy.

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Mr. Eckenrode in Pittsburgh after the 2022 games. (Courtesy of Susan Rendulic via National Senior Games)
Epoch Times Photo
Mr. Eckenrode (C) with his second wife, Eleanor (L). (Courtesy of Susan Rendulic via National Senior Games)

“You can’t be overweight to [bike], and that’s always helped me to keep in shape. … I never did smoke,” he said. “I see so many people that are short of breath and such, later on in life. I never had that experience. When I was in the service they used to give us free cigarettes. For some reason, I just didn’t go along with it.”

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Mr. Eckenrode riding on the trail. (Courtesy of Susan Rendulic via National Senior Games)

Mr. Eckenrode has since remarried to Eleanor, the woman who sold him and his late wife the property in Washington County.  Eleanor’s husband passed away three months after Ms. Eckenrode did. As Mr. Eckenrode and Eleanor shared their grief, they got closer and soon married.

While Eleanor does not cycle, Mr. Eckenrode remains true to his lifelong passion.

“I’m so lucky, I’m right on the trail and I can go 40 to 50 miles, it’s all paved,” he said. “It covers all of Washington County and beyond. I can travel clear over to West Virginia. I get up in the morning, have my breakfast, and I feel like I can jump on a bike and go.”

Epoch Times Photo
The veteran with his family. (Courtesy of Susan Rendulic via National Senior Games)

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