Wednesday, September 3, 2014

An inspiration and a testament to living well

At 82, Newbury’s ‘Biking Grammy’ helps local causes

AUGUST 28, 2014

Photos by Barry Chin/Globe Staff

NEWBURY — On a recent warm August morning, just as Margaret Jerome pulled her blue Jamis bicycle into her driveway, its odometer flipped to 30,000 miles.
It was the culmination of all the rises she has climbed, the hills she has coasted down, and the flat tires she has endured all over the North Shore and elsewhere for the past 14 years.
An inspiration and a testament to aging well, and living well, Jerome does not just tour local rail trails and roadways for her own benefit. For the past few years, she has ridden with a mission, raising thousands of dollars for local causes. As a result, she has become a well-known local figure, referred to more often than not by her nickname, the Biking Grammy.
I figure I’m doing it anyway, I might as well do it for a good purpose,” said the mother of two and grandmother of four. “And I’ve really enjoyed it.”
On any given pledge ride, Jerome seeks $1 donations for every mile she pedals — tracked by her odometer. That meant raising $3,370 for the Newbury Council on Aging last year to help establish an emergency fund that helps seniors experiencing hardship pay for groceries and utilities.
In 2015, her 15th year as a serious cyclist, her goal is to raise $1,015 for the council’s Greater Newbury elder pet fund, which helps qualifying seniors keep their animals by giving them donations of food and other supplies.
Once she announces a cause, donations come from local businesses and friends, some of whom are from as far away as California, Arizona, and Florida.
It’s word of mouth,” said the Rockport native, who retired in 2000 from the Newbury Elementary School cafeteria, where she worked for 32 years. “Everybody knows me.”
Everyone who donates to support her rides gets a handwritten thank-you note.
And she has received more than a few thank-you notes of her own as well.
“ ‘Powerful’ is how I describe your commitment to philanthropy and to fund-raising,” Newbury Town Administrator Tracy Blais wrote Jerome following her recent donation to the Council on Aging.
Although a longtime rider — naturally as a child, but in a more dedicated fashion starting in 1977 with her two children — she did not get an odometer until 2000 at age 68. She started to really whir through the miles after her husband, William, died following an illness in 2003.
I really got into it because I wanted to best use up my time,” she said, seated at the dining room table of her ranch home, various pictures, thank-you letters, and newspaper articles spread out around her.
She set out on her first challenge on a whim in 2004. As she recalled, she was at a local coffee shop, it was New Year’s Eve, and she realized that she had biked exactly 2,000 miles that year.
I figured ‘I’ll go home and do four more miles,’ ” she said, to finish out 2004 with 2,004.
After that, she started out doing several small fund-raisers, and in 2007 she completed her first big one, raising $2,100 for Anna Jaques Hospital’s continuing education program in memory of her husband, who had several stays there while fighting cancer.
At 82 years young she has more positive energy and drive to help people, it is truly amazing,” said her daughter, Wendy Lockhart of West Newbury. “I am so proud of her and all that she does.”
Noting that she has no regular route — “I just ride” — Jerome said she will sometimes go to downtown Newburyport and run errands, or cruise along local rail trails. She averages 10 to 17 miles a day, tallying them up diligently in a small logbook, and has kept going despite a hip replacement and two knee surgeries, not to mention a few spills.
So what keeps her going?
In addition to her gratitude to everyone who donates and the support of her family, “I don’t like to just sit and do nothing,” she said. “I’ve always been very active.”
Which is a bit of an understatement.
While a student at Rockport High School, she was a cheerleader and also played basketball and volleyball — the latter of which she continued to participate in into her 40s and 50s. She snowshoes, cross-country skis, kayaks, dances, gardens, and does all her own yard work. She also has an indoor bike, a treadmill, and a skiing machine. She uses those only when she cannot go out on her winter bike, a Bianchi, she said.
Over the years, she has worked as a seamstress, braided nearly a dozen colorful rugs that cover the floors of her home, hunted, fished, dug clams, gone trap- and skeet-shooting, and made dozens of batches of jams and jellies from berries she picked herself. She continues to bake, but gives it all away because “you’ve got to watch the pounds,” she said.
I guess there isn’t much I haven’t dabbled in,” she said. “I’m very self-motivated, as you can see. I just can’t sit still. I thoroughly enjoy life. I’ve crammed a lot into my 82 years.”
As for the cycling, she has no plans to slow down.
I used to say ‘I wonder if when I’m 70, I’ll still be riding?’” she recalled. “Now I wonder ‘Will I still be riding when I’m 90?’ ”
Those who know her certainly think so — and then some.
I am so proud of her tenacity and pursuit of using what she enjoys to help others,” said her son, Bill Jerome of Georgetown. “We hope that she is still riding her bike when she is 100.”

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