Travelling on two wheels has always been one of life’s pleasures for Powell River resident Reg Cisilino.
“I always liked a good bike ride,” he said.
Growing up in Udine, northeastern Italy, he covered a lot of ground on a bicycle.
“To go to work in the city of Udine was 17 kilometres, so I would ride 17 [kilometres] to work, do my eight or nine hours and 17 [kilometres] back,” he added.
Soon to be 80, and training for the 55+ BC Games, he’s clocking as many kilometres as he did as a teenager.
“I ride to Saltery Bay ferry and back three times a week,” said Cisilino. The return distance is 64 kilometres from his home.
Cisilino, his wife Nilla and son Giorgio came to Powell River from Italy in the 1960s. Daughter Genny was born in Canada. Reg began working construction with relatives in the community and eventually took a job at the paper mill, where he worked for the next 32 years.
He first entered into competitive cycling in his 60s at the encouragement of his friend, Harry Thompson, who was an inspiration to many in the community. The former school principal took up competitive track and field at age 62, and competed until he was 92, breaking many provincial, national and international records in the process. Thompson passed away in February age 96.
“One day I took a ride towards the ferry and was coming home along Joyce Avenue and Harry stopped me,” said Cisilino. “He said, ‘You’re doing pretty good on the bike, you should come to the BC Senior Games.’ I said, ‘What? Competing? I’m 61 years old.’”
Nothing came of it, but a year later Thompson persisted.
“We were having lunch and I heard a knock at the door,” said Cisilino. “Harry said, ‘Tomorrow is Sunday. We’re going to the time trials in Courtenay. Come give it a try, you’re going to have fun.’”
The next day Cisilino entered his first cycling race.
“There were 37 competitors. We did the laps, 45 kilometres and at the end there were only nine of us, and I came fourth in my very first race.”
Cisilino attended the BC Senior Games in Kelowna for the first time that year, placing fourth overall in the 60-kilometre road race. Over the next decade and a half he competed in countless events throughout the province, winning many medals in the process.
“I always try to get top three,” he said. “If I manage to get one of those medals, I’m happy.”
One particular victory stands out.
“One Father’s Day, a beautiful sunny day, I went over to Little River and did a race. I beat them all on the sprint so I got a gold medal,” he said. “I managed to catch the 3:15 ferry back. So at 5 o’clock I knocked on the door at home, Nilla opened the door and I went ‘ta-dah’ with the gold medal on my chest. That’s something to remember.”
After 16 years, he decided it was time to stop, but 2019 is special, he said.
“This year Kelowna is sponsoring the games again after 20 years so I said, ‘I’m going to finish where I started.’”
In April, Cisilino began his training regime and is now in fighting trim.
“Being Italian, I like to eat, and Nilla is a great cook,” he said. “At the end of April, I was 218 pounds. Right now I’m 180 pounds.”
In addition to cycling, Cisilino lawn bowls, makes wine and together with Nilla tends to an extensive garden that includes seven varieties of grapes.
He will compete in three races in Kelowna this year: A time trial ride on a flat course, a 40-kilometre road race and a hill climb. He is dedicating what he says will be his last three races to Thompson.
“I get emotional now,” said Cisilino. “Harry is the one who drove me to do this. He was my mentor and he treated me like a brother.”
Although there have been changes over the last 20 years of competing, his resolve is the same.
“The competitiveness is still in the body and the mind,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t think I’m 80 years old, but now I need a good 15 minutes of warm-up. My legs, in the beginning, they don’t want to go. They’re screaming, they hurt.”
Cisilino said the important thing for people of all ages is to find something they enjoy and to do it.
“Everything, whether good or bad, is passing,” he said. “You’re still looking at a future even if you’re 90 or 100 years old. You’re still dreaming, still planning something.”