Over the years I have often heard about a feisty guy in his 90s who works out almost every day at the YMCA and lives a very active and full life. Like a lot of people in the Athens area, I didn’t know much about Fred Birchmore, but I got the feeling that he was a bit of a legend in these parts. When I heard that he was turning 100 this November, I knew that I needed to learn more about him, and I hoped to meet him personally.
As I began to start digging into his past, I uncovered an incredible story of man who has spent his life achieving goals and setting records that most of us would only dream of. What Fred is probably most known for is his amazing 25,000-mile bicycle trip around the world.
Fred started is journey in 1936 in Germany, with a one-speed bicycle he named Bucephalus, after Alexander the Great’s horse. His two-year journey was filled with adventures, all of which are captured in his book, appropriately titled Around the World on a Bicycle.
Fred and his story are so incredible that the Smithsonian even has a special display featuring his bicycle, photos and other mementos collected throughout his trip.
Never one to sit still, shortly after he returned home from his 1936 bike trip, Fred set out with a friend on a 12,000-mile bicycle tour of North America. From there, his life has been an almost constant series of journeys and accomplishments. Check out this list of just a few of the things that Fred has done since he retired in 1973 (the full list was too long to include in this short article!):
• Hiked the Inca Trail twice … once alone and once with son Danny (1978, 1980).
• Took a 300-mile rock climbing expedition through Mahoosie Mountains of Maine (1981).
• Hiked the Milford Track in Southern Alps of New Zealand with wife, Willa (1982).
• Built the “Great Wall of Happy Hollow” with six rail car loads of stone (1983-1988).
• Took a bicycling trip through the Canadian Rockies with Danny (1995).
• Hiked over the Taurus Mountains of Turkey with Willa (1998).
Inspired by the incredible life that Fred had led, I was determined to meet the legend in person. I spotted my opportunity when I heard about the Fred Birchmore Run for Fun held in September that was being held in his honor.
As I approached him that day, I felt like a nervous fan about to meet some celebrity or rock star. He quickly put me at ease as he began to talk about his life and adventures. He introduced me to his adorable wife, Willa, whom he jokes that he “stole from her cradle” because she is three years younger than he is at a mere 97.
For their honeymoon, they toured 4,500 miles of Latin America on a tandem bicycle. He also proudly introduced his youngest son Danny, who completed a 4,000-mile bike tour of Europe and a 2,000-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail with his father. For the short time that we talked that day, what stood out for me was not just the amazing physical accomplishments that Fred had achieved, but also the way he approaches his life.
Through his almost 100-year-long life and to the day I met him, Fred Birchmore continues to stay active, keep a good sense of humor, help others and give back to his community. He can still be found frequenting the YMCA, where he has been a member since he was 10. He jokes about how his birthday cake was ruined last year because he couldn’t blow out the 99 candles fast enough.
If someone is struggling to figure out how to use a piece of equipment at the gym, he is quick to show them how to work it. And, whether through a Fun Run Fundraiser or the donation of his land to create Bear Hollow Park and Zoo, Fred still helps those of us in this community to get outside and move.
We can all learn a lot about leading a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life from Fred Birchmore. He is an inspiration to me, and I hope he inspires all of us to live better lives with him as our example.
If you would like to meet Fred, come out to his 100th birthday celebration at the Athens YMCA on November 29th. You can also post a birthday wish in the comment section.
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