Circle of life

Joseph Paoletti and Karen Greave have proven their commitment to the cause. The training partners have ridden in the annual bike-a-thon every year since 2003.

Strength of the cycle: Joseph Paoletti joined more than 3,000 other bicycle riders in the American Cancer Society’s annual Bike-a-thon from Philadelphia to Atlantic City. Above, Paoletti holds a photo of his granddaughter, Kelsey Gallagher, who died in 2005 at age 17 after a six-year battle with cancer. WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO

At 90 years old, Langhorne’s Joseph Paoletti is beating the odds.

According to the Social Security Administration, boys born today in the United States have less than a one-in-three chance of reaching age 90. Those odds were much longer in 1927, the year Paoletti made his glorious debut on planet Earth.

Despite his own longevity, Paoletti knows the fragility of life all too well. Both his wife and a sister have passed away in recent years. He has also lost a granddaughter, Kelsey Gallagher, who died in 2005 at age 17 after a six-year battle with cancer.

Gallagher was one of Paoletti’s main inspirations for doing something else quite extraordinary last Sunday, when he joined Somerton resident Karen Greave and more than 3,000 other bicycle riders in the American Cancer Society’s annual Bike-a-thon from Philadelphia to Atlantic City.

Paoletti also paid tribute to his son, Joseph M., a cancer survivor. He rode with photos of his son and granddaughter attached to his handlebars.

“I think about them and I also have others,” he said in an interview two days before the ride. “I have a sister who died (from cancer) and another who is recurring. I hate to say it, but every year somebody I know gets cancer or dies from it.”

Similarly, Greave, 61, rode for her father, William Greave, who died two years ago from Leukemia, as well as Maddie, a 7-year-old girl she knows from Calvary Chapel who was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago.

While most participants in the Bike-a-thon seem to ride in memory of a lost loved one, few can trump Paoletti and Greave for their commitment to the cause. The training partners have ridden every year since 2003.

A perfect pair: Joseph Paoletti and Somerton’s Karen Greave met about 17 years ago through a riding group, Cycling Enthusiasts of the Delaware Valley. WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO

In past years, they completed the full 66-mile course from the Ben Franklin Bridge to Boardwalk Hall. This year, less than a month after Paoletti’s May 21 birthday, they tackled the 54-mile route starting at Cherry Hill High School East.

Paoletti recognizes a lot of folks his age barely leave the couch, let alone pedal across an entire state. Yet, it doesn’t feel unusual to him. After all, the retired financial manager has been riding long distances for more than 30 years.

“I don’t think it’s exceptional,” he said. “But some people don’t understand that promoting health through activity is very beneficial. I’m not a health nut, but I’ve always taken care of myself.

“I do it mostly for recreation and exercise. It’s much easier on your morphological structure, your bones. There’s no pounding and there’s also a social aspect to it.”

Paoletti and Greave met about 17 ago through a riding group, Cycling Enthusiasts of the Delaware Valley. Paoletti, a Bristol native, had been a member of several other bicycling clubs before then. Greave, a Mayfair native, joined after a former neighbor introduced her to the sport.

“The first time (the neighbor) took me, we did 37 miles and I felt I conquered the world. Now I feel warmed up at 37 miles,” Greave said.

Their club has about 25 members, mostly folks in their 60s and above. Perhaps a dozen generally show up for the club’s scheduled group rides on Wednesdays and Saturdays in South Jersey. About seven members took part in Sunday’s Bike-a-thon.

It’s not an elite-level group. In cycling terms, they consider themselves a “C” level. They generally ride at 12 to 14 mph and take a lunch break. Distances range from 40 to 60 miles. Four days before the charity event, they covered about 46 miles.

WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO

“It’s more than a gentle ride. We keep a good pace,” Paoletti said.

He isn’t the only nonagenarian in the club. Another member is 91, but doesn’t do the Bike-a-thon. In any case, Paoletti doesn’t see age as a big deal. In addition to cycling, he does light resistance training and yoga. His doctors are all for his exercise regimen.

“They think it’s wonderful that I can do what I do,” he said.

Paoletti also doesn’t view bicycling as an excessive risk, even on public streets. Last August, he took a spill downtown when his tire slipped on a railroad track, but he’s barely missed a beat since then.

“I don’t think the risks are any greater than driving in your car, especially if you’re driving on 95,” he said. “There’s a risk in everything you do.”

Motorists don’t seem to notice Paoletti’s age in passing and generally react to him no differently than other riders.

“Some drivers get annoyed, but we follow the traffic patterns. We don’t ride in the middle of the street,” he said.

As for the Bike-a-thon, Paoletti’s biggest challenge over the years hasn’t been the drivers (it’s a closed course), the distance or the terrain.

“I don’t think it’s hard at all. It’s pretty flat,” he said.

However, inexperienced riders tend to be dangerous when they weave through the pack, particularly at the beginning when they feel fresh and have yet to realize the value of pacing oneself, Paoletti said.

Those who ride with Paoletti can learn a lot from him about pacing — on a bike and in life. Greave hopes she’s still riding at 90 years old.

“Joe is an inspiration to me. If you get going, you can keep going,” she said.

“I enjoy doing what I do. Plus it’s beneficial,” Paoletti said. “I’m not trying to outlive anybody, but I think the key with being fit is improving your quality of life.” ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.