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Rugby woman counts birthdays in miles

By Sue Sitter - | Jun 5, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Ann Marie Richard pedals a stationary bike at the Wellness Center at Heart of America Medical Center.

Most people count their age in years. Since Anne Marie Richard turned 60, she’s been counting hers in miles.

Richard will be 90 June 8. She said she decided 30 years ago to mark her birthdays by doing what’s she’s loved to do since her childhood – riding a bicycle. She rides one mile for every year of her age.

“I’m from Massachusetts, a small town about 40 miles from Boston. It’s called Oxford, Massachusetts. We don’t pronounce the ‘r,'” Richard said in her New England accent, smiling.

Richard, who wore earrings shaped like bicycles to celebrate her birthday, said she has lived in Rugby for 20 years. She moved to the community 20 years ago, when her son-in-law’s business partner, Jim Stadum, relocated to Rugby, where Stadum’s wife, Laurie, grew up.

Richard’s daughter, Caroline Doucette, is a well-known artist in the area. Richard has also worked as an artist for years, producing oil and watercolor paintings and other pieces. Richard’s work hangs on the walls in her home. She has an art studio downstairs, where more artwork decorates the walls, including some produced by her own mother, Elsie Moscoffian.

“I guess art runs in the family,” Richard said.

Richard’s interest in bicycle riding goes back to her days growing up on her family farm outside of Oxford.

“I had three brothers and a sister older than me,” Richard said, describing her childhood on a farm as one of eight children. “So, I never dreamed of having a bicycle. If we wanted to go somewhere, if you had two feet and shoes on, you can walk there. It was two miles to the center of town, so wherever we went, we walked and thought nothing of it.”

“Even if you missed the school bus, you didn’t get a ride, you’d walk there,” Richard said, adding, “I just never thought of getting a bicycle.”

Richard described the day she received her first bicycle.

“Every day, my father would come home from work and bring the newspaper in with him. And one day, he didn’t bring it in. He was sitting there with my mother and he said, ‘Go out and get the newspaper for me.’ So, I went to his car to get a newspaper, and there was a bike in the back of the car. A new one,” Richard recounted. ” Unbelievable.”

“It had a horn and light and a basket,” Richard added. “I just couldn’t believe it. I think it was my mother’s doing. I rode all over town.”

“And back then, you didn’t have to say, ‘Mom, I’m going to so-and-so’s house,'” Richard said. “You just went. You never thought of anything happening.”

“In 1946, my youngest sister was born,” Richard added. “I was 16.”

“By the time my sister was old enough to walk, I’d put her in the basket of my bike and we’d ride all over the place. It was fun. One time, I was driving off the front lawn onto the dirt road. She popped out of the basket and onto the ground. She didn’t cry, though. I picked her up, put her back in the basket and off we went,” Richard said, laughing. “She was hanging on for dear life.”

“My sister is 75 now. Even now, we’re very close,” Richard said.

After Richard graduated high school, she served in the Women’s Army Corps in 1950. She lost track of her bike while away in the military. Next came marriage and family, but years after that, Richard found another bike.

“I bought another bike later and I wish I had brought it with me to Rugby because it was a John Deere bicycle,” Richard said. “It was the same John Deere green color.”

“I went to places I never dreamed of going on my bike,” Richard said.

“In Massachusetts, towns are laid out 24 miles apart,” Richard explained. “After my husband passed away, I would ride from Princeton to Oxford, where I grew up and it was 30 miles each way. I also had 30 miles to go back. The first time I did it, I took my bike in my car to my brother’s house in Princeton and I left my car there. I rode my bike back to Oxford and then the next day, I rode back to his house to get my car. But that was the longest trip. I wasn’t even sure I could go that far,” Richard said.

After she found out she could go the distance, Richard decided to make bicycle riding a birthday tradition. She counted her first birthday bike ride on her 60th, biking to her brother’s house and back for 60 miles.

“I had another friend and she biked,” Richard said, describing another ride. “One time, we took our bikes down to Cotuit, Massachusetts, down at the cape where my sister was living. And we rode our bikes all around the cape.”

“Then when we moved here, I was 70,” Richard said. “I was riding the bike then. I rode around Rugby. I figured out I could ride to Esmond and back – it was about as far as my brother’s house had been (in Massachusetts). But, my son-in-law said, ‘No way can you ride your bike on that road,'” Richard’s son-in-law was referring to N.D. Highway 3, which winds around small lakes and farmland south of Rugby.

In 2013, Richard had a mishap near the intersection of Highway 3 and U.S. Highway 2. She wrote about it in a letter to the Tribune. Richard described riding a total of 82 miles, breaking the task into 25-mile parts over four days.

Richard wrote that on her last day, she followed two pickup trucks, one driven by a man on his cell phone. The pickup truck she was following stopped suddenly, and Richard fell onto Highway 3.

“While on the ground and tangled in my bike, the man, still on his phone asked, ‘Are you all right?’ I said, ‘No.’ And while still on the ground trying to get up, the man in the truck turned right onto Highway 3 before I could get up,” Richard wrote. “I want him to know that he left an 82-year-old woman on the ground and drove away!”

Richard said most of her rides were pleasant, however.

“I took my car and rode my bike around town,” Richard said. “And I was doing it every year. One day, a lady said to my daughter, ‘Are you going to let your mother ride her bike around again this year?’ Like she’s going to tell me I can’t do it?” Richard said with a laugh.

“Last year, I wasn’t too sure if I could ride my bike because of my age and everything going on,” Richard said. “I went to the Wellness Center (at Heart of America Medical Center). I told the physical therapist, John, that I wanted to ride my bike, but I wasn’t sure what to do. He said, ‘Right here,’ and showed me the stationary bike.”

“I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to go five miles,” Richard added. “But this was a piece of cake. So, I started there and did it. I thought I could do 10 miles in nine days or nine miles in 10 days. But when I got over there it was a piece of cake to do five miles, (so) maybe I could do 10 miles in one day.”

“It’s really harder on the stationary bike because when you ride a regular bicycle, sometimes you’re coasting and you’re not using your legs,” Richard added. “But when you use a stationary bike, your feet and your arms are going at the same time.”

“I did it in eight days,” Richard said. “I did 11.2 miles a day.”

“The last two days, I wanted to stop on the following Saturday, so I did 15 miles and came back and did another 13,” Richard said. “But, it was on a Friday and everybody leaves. I was able to stay there to do this. So, I was back there all by myself and everybody had left, so no one was there for me to tell, ‘I did it.'”

Richard wrote news of her accomplishment on small cards with drawings of bicycles printed on the front to let family and friends know.

She says she plans to keep cycling for her birthday as long as she can. The youthful sparkle in her eyes when she talks punctuates her words.

“I don’t feel old,” Richard said. “I know when I look in the mirror, I see my mother. I know I’m 90 years old, but I don’t feel it. I could climb a tree if I wanted to.”

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