Richard Mersitz has always been a man a bit ahead of his time.
He became adept with computers … in the 1950s.
He and his first wife, Mary, took their diet, nutrition and physical conditioning seriously back in an era when fitness aficionados were thought, by many in the general public, to be kooks.
So, there’s some irony in the fact that it wasn’t until his retirement years when he finally discovered the sport for which he’s perhaps most built to excel: cycling.
“I call it ‘adult kid stuff,’” explains Mersitz, 78, of the freedom and joy he experiences when tooling along South Florida’s roadways at 20-plus miles per hour with a group of eight to 10 fellow members of the Boca Raton Bicycle Club. “It’s like the call of the wild.”
And Mersitz answers it every Tuesday, Thursday and weekend morning, traversing more than 100 miles of local bike paths weekly in the process — and doing so at a clip that enables him to keep pace with riders young enough to be his sons and daughters.
Mersitz, a native of the Bronx, N.Y., was introduced to serious group-cycling in the mid-1990s by a nephew. At the time, Mersitz and his second wife, Rebecca, were living in Princeton, N.J. (Mary had passed away in 1989, after the pair had been married for nearly 30 years.)
“Rebecca and I used to bicycle casually, but nothing like the group rides I went on with these really accomplished recreational cyclists,” Mersitz recalls.
It was all the neophyte could do to remain within shouting distance of the 15-mile-an-hour pace set by the group’s weakest riders. “Even so, I was hooked,” Mersitz says.
That Mersitz took so quickly to the competitive challenge of group-cycling is really not surprising.
After all, explains the still-trim and wiry Mersitz, “I’ve been an athlete my entire life.”
Sandlot football and baseball.
Stickball in the street.
“You name it, I played it,” he says of his youth.
After being discharged from the Army in the mid-1950s, Mersitz returned to New York and resumed his active lifestyle.
Indeed, he met and fell in love with Mary, whom he fondly describes as “a total tomboy. Just keeping up with her kept me in shape.”
The couple played tennis, hiked, ran and were, Mersitz says, “always outdoors doing something.”
Mersitz was also forging a successful career on Wall Street. He did so, he says, by recognizing that when it came to financial record-keeping, “Automation was the wave of the future.”
He was one of the pioneering attendees of the earliest computer classes offered at City College of New York.
He ultimately worked for both the New York Stock Exchange and the Options Clearing Corp., becoming an expert in “settling” the day’s financial transactions as the entire industry transitioned from a solely paper-based, to an electronic, data-retention system.
Needless to say, he’s still quite tech-savvy: “I fire up my computer first thing every morning while I’m eating my cereal.”
Never slowing down
After Mary passed away, Mersitz’s love of participatory sports led him to his second wife, in 1991: “Rebecca and I met on the tennis court at a ‘mixer’ for mixed doubles players.”
The couple, who now live in a Boca Raton ACTS Retirement-Life Community, relocated to South Florida in 2002.
By that time, Mersitz was an avid — and pretty swift — cyclist, so he immediately hooked up with the 400-plus-member Boca Raton Bicycle Club (eventually, he served as the organization’s vice president).
What makes Mersitz’s continued cycling ability all the more impressive is that, despite never suffering a specific knee injury, he underwent a full replacement of his right knee in 2006. He was 72.
And — as if there was ever any doubt — he recovered remarkably quickly.
“I was cycling again a month after the surgery, and back to playing tennis a few months after that,” Mersitz says. “My surgeon, Dr. Martin Roche at Holy Cross Hospital, is the best.”
In fact, whenever he sees fellow ACTS residents lumbering stiff-legged on the tennis court because their knees no longer flex or bend, he advises them, “It doesn’t have to be like that.”
A few years back, Mersitz competed in the South Florida Senior Games (for those 55 and over). He partook in the 5K and 10K time-trial races on the cycling track at Brian Piccolo Park in Cooper City, medaling in both.
This qualified him for the Florida Senior Games, a statewide event. Though he didn’t medal, he was one of South Florida’s top finishers.
And lest you think Mersitz “rests” on the days when he’s not cycling, think again: “I’ll walk five miles, or lift weights, or do yoga.”
But it’s the cycling that gives Mersitz the biggest charge — not to mention, caloric burn for the buck.
Last year, his 5,000-plus miles of cycling utilized, according to his state-of-the-art, 27-speed bicycle’s high-tech computer, more than 90,000 calories.
With a wry smile, Mersitz playfully notes, “That’ll let you enjoy a bagel with a little extra cream cheese.”
A treat he’s no doubt earned.