Don Kjelleren Sr. | Reader Athlete Sept. 2011

Don Kjelleren Sr.
Family: Wife, Lorelei; three children, Gary, Katherine, and Donald; five grandchildren
Retired Global Marketing Manager for DuPont
Primary sport:

VS: You’re the president of the Vermont Senior Games Association. How did that come about?
DK: I was on the board of the National Senior Games for 10 years while living in Delaware, including several years as vice chair, before moving to Vermont. I was brought out of retirement to head the organization here last year. We changed the name from the Green Mountain Senior Games to the Vermont Senior Games Association to show the affiliation with the national group. We’ve moved most of the events to the Champlain Valley area and added a few new ones. We hope to institute winter games next year.

VS: As president, can you also compete in the games?
DK: I’m a competitive cyclist, but I’m also running the cycling events, so I may not be able to compete. This year, I competed at the National Senior Games in both road racing and time trials. Believe it or not, there are over 30 competitors in my age group. Over the years, I’ve won one gold medal, a number of silvers, many bronze medals, and lots of ribbons.

VS: I see that locally you compete at the Green Mountain Bicycle Club time trial series.
DK: I just enjoy being with a crowd of other cyclists, and I really like those courses. I’ve known some of those guys for a long time and [GMBC President] Kevin Bessett has been a family friend for years. My goal each year is to better my time on the courses.

VS: Sometimes it’s a family thing, isn’t it?
DK: I do a lot with my son, Don, and there was one time trial where his son joined us. Don and I have run the New York Marathon together, we’ve climbed Mount Whitney, and we’ve done a lot of biking together. He’s a much better athlete than me. Having all three of us together in a competitive event was kind of cool, but I ride with all my grandchildren. They’re all cyclists.

VS: How much do you ride annually?
DK: I try to do 25 to 30 miles a day, six days a week. I ride every day that’s above 45 degrees as long as there’s no snow or ice on the road, and it isn’t raining. In the off-season, I ride a stationary bike and go to the gym.

VS: You’re also a published author, aren’t you?
DK: I wrote my first book, “Happiness: the Road to Well-Being,” because the books on health were just not readable, and as we can see from the condition of health in this country, it’s not something people take a lot of interest in. My life has been filled with adventure. I’ve climbed in or around most of the world’s famous mountains, run nonstop from Europe to Asia and back, and had several near-death experiences hanging off cliffs or being blown off roads in a windstorm. I decided the first half of every chapter should describe my life’s adventures and be fun reading, but the second half should be instructive. In a few years, we are not going to be able to enjoy the health care system in this country as we know it. The only way to save it is to take personal responsibility for health and place less demand on the health care system. You need to live a holistic lifestyle. It’s a three-legged stool with physical fitness, mental/emotional fitness, and spiritual fitness.

My second book is a spy novel. On my 75th birthday, my son Don and I biked from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border; 188 miles in 12 hours. A few days later, I found myself unable to sit without a pad of paper on my lap, and in two months I wrote this novel. I had terrific fun doing that and think it’s the result of being physically fit and stimulating my brain through exercise.
VS: In 1993–4 you embarked on what you called The Great American Adventure, traveling to every state to cycle 100 miles, run 10 miles, swim one mile, and climb the state’s highest peak. Tell us about that.
DK: I took early retirement and wanted to do something nobody else had ever done. I needed to make a total break from work. My first thought was to climb the highest peak in every state, but I learned several people had already done that, so I decided to also ride a century in every state, touching the state’s capital, and since I’m a runner, I decided to run 10 miles in that city, as well. My philosophy in life is that all our limitations are self-imposed. I had a fear of swimming. I could hang off an 8,000-foot cliff, but I couldn’t go into waist-deep water without shaking. I got sponsored by the local YMCA, learned to swim and then tested myself by jumping off a boat two-and-a-half miles from shore to swim back. I did it and added the idea of swimming one mile in every state to the list. I started the Great American Adventure on my 60th birthday and completed the whole thing, with 19 days to spare, except for climbing Mount McKinley in Alaska, because you need to set aside a month do that, and I had only given myself a year for the whole thing. I raised $50,000 for charity along the way. It became an exciting event which changed my life and set me on my way to promoting health and well-being.

VS: Are more seniors getting involved or staying involved in sports?
DK: There is a growing trend towards the recognition of the importance of being physically fit, and the Senior Games helps with that. Competition is a goal that makes people stay with their training.

—Phyl Newbeck


Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with two spoiled orange cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”