Durward Higgins, octogenarian and top-ranked cyclist, on keeping pace in the sport that keeps him young

Photo contributed by Earline Higgins / Durward Higgins (left) stands with a group of his cycling buddies alongside Bald River Falls near Tellico Plains, Tennessee.

Durward Higgins says he was born with wheels in his head.

"I have always loved anything with wheels. My dad had a garage business. He bought every car magazine published, and I would read them cover to cover," says Higgins, now 80.

Born and raised in Texas, at age 14, Higgins began building drag racing cars.

"I was drag racing by 16," he says. "I didn't even have my driver's license yet."

In college, he shifted his attention to weightlifting and became a bodybuilder. During his final semester, in 1966, Higgins was drafted by the U.S. military and would have been sent to Vietnam had he not failed his physical due to high blood pressure.

"I was very fit; I could lift a lot of weight, but I didn't do a lot of aerobic exercises," he remembers.

Heavy weightlifting can cause blood pressure to spike, plus hypertension ran in his family -- as did high cholesterol, which Higgins was diagnosed with in his 30s.

His doctor recommended he try running, which he did enthusiastically, until pain in his Achilles tendon forced him to search for an alternative exercise. Finally he returned to his roots -- or his wheels -- and took up cycling at age 41.

Today, Higgins is one of Chattanooga's most accomplished cyclists. In 2022, he competed in and won numerous cycling events across the country, from the Tennessee Senior Olympics to the National Senior Olympics to the Huntsman Senior World Games. He was also among the first class of inductees into the Chattanooga Cycling Hall of Fame, and on March 13, he will be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame for his achievements in competitive cycling.

  photo  Photo contributed by Earline Higgins

Here, in his own words, Higgins discusses aging and keeping pace in the sport that keeps him young.

> I was a field engineer for General Electric and would travel all the time [for work]. I would take my bike with me everywhere. It was before the internet, so as soon as I found out what town I was going to, I would call the operator to find the biggest bike shop in that town. Then I'd call them to ask about weekly rides or club rides.

> I did so much riding with clubs all around the country, and I got to see so many places and meet so many people because of it.

> I was just getting into cycling when I started dating my [now] wife. We've been married 40 years now.

> She is my directeur sportif, which is a French phrase basically for sports director -- the person that sees to all the logistics of your travels and makes sure everything is pulled together so all I have to do is be the engine.

> [My wife and I are] fanatics about food. I don't eat sugar. I haven't eaten red meat for almost 40 years. My sources of protein are often powdered -- milk and soy proteins. We eat fish several times a week, salmon or tuna. We eat a lot of poultry, too. My wife buys it, and she knows every good way in the world to make chicken and turkey. We cook everything in olive oil -- that's a cholesterol thing.

> We also try to spend time outside, get enough vitamin D. I walk every day with my wife; we'll do a couple of miles.

> One thing that became clear to me after cycling for a while is the importance of weight -- bike weight and body weight. Cyclists have an ideal climbing weight [optimal body weight for cycling steep inclines]. I weighed 204 pounds as a bodybuilder. Once I worked on getting my weight down, that was a turning point for me [in competitive cycling].

> I ride most every day, though I may miss a day here and there. If I'm not outside riding, I ride inside on a trainer in front of the television set. I typically do a long, hard ride on Saturday, almost always with a mountain climb up Signal or Lookout.

> One thing I've gotten so much pride in is winning some epic mountain races. [In 2017], I did the [Colorado] Mount Evans Hill Climb, which is the highest paved road in the U.S. [starting at 7,540 feet in elevation and climbing to 14,130 feet]. I won it the first year and came in fourth the next year -- but I was beat by three guys not yet 70, and I was 75 at the time.

  photo  Photo contributed by Earline Higgins / 2022 was a big year for Durward Higgins, who had more than a dozen podium finishes at events across the country.

Durward Higgins' Epic Wins in 2022

Tennessee Senior Olympics

Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

Age Division: Men's 80-84

First in the 5k time trial, 20k road race and 40k road race

National Senior Olympics

Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Age Division: Men's 80-84

First place in the 5k time trial, 10k time trial, 20k road race and 40k road race

USA Cycling Gran Fondo National Championship

Location: Asheville, North Carolina

Age Division: Men's 75+

First place in the Gran Fondo event, a 100-mile route through the Blue Ridge mountains

USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Age Division: Men's 80-85

First in the road race, time trial and criterium, a mass start, multi-lap event

Huntsman World Senior Games

Location: St. George, Utah

Age Division: Men's 80-84

First in the cycling hill climb, road race and time trial