Thursday, July 26

Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’

by Mindi Epstein

As he approaches his 96th birthday, long-time JCC member Sam Cohen has cycled the equivalent of the distance between California and Maine - five times - on a stationary bicycle at the JCC.

Since 1993, Sam has logged close to 14,000 miles without ever once pedaling a mile outside of the JCC’s walls.

“I used to ride outside, about 50 miles most days,” he explains, “but they stopped me from riding outside at 93 because my balance isn’t what it used to be.”

Not one to be easily thwarted, Sam didn’t pack it in. Instead, he packed it up.

Four times each week, Sam strolls into the JCC with his workout bag slung over his shoulder and makes his way to his favorite stationary bicycle in the JCC’s Mordoh Fitness Center for a one hour and forty-minute ride, 25 miles exactly. He has his favorite bike because, as he says, “it’s the one that feels most like riding a real bike on the road.”

Before jumping onto the saddle, Sam positions his personal box fan at just the right angle. This ritual has its purpose.

“I have a fan because if you keep your body cool while you’re exercising, you’re not wasting any energy through body heat. So you’re able to use more energy for pedaling,” he says.

Anyone who participates in a sport would testify to the accuracy of this statement. These days, the JCC staff stores Sam’s fan for him, but there was a time when this iconic figure could be seen carrying his fan in and out of the JCC every time he came to ride.

Sam’s history with the JCC goes back to when he was 7 or 8 years old living with his family in a “little cottage” near the corner of South Street and Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis. He went to “do a little exercise” at the JCC’s predecessor, the Communal Building (Nathan Morris House), constructed in 1914 on South Meridian Street. He continued his activities at the community’s new facility, the Kirshbaum Community Center, when it opened in the mid-1920s at 2314 N. Meridian Street. Some of Sam’s fondest memories come from his time at the Kirshbaum Center.

“I enjoyed playing in a basketball league and swimming,” he recalls. “And, I passed all my tests for the life guard.”

Considering the JCC’s outstanding aquatic facilities today on Hoover Road with an indoor competition pool and an entire water park, one would want to know if Sam still enjoys swimming.

“Nah,” he flicks his hand and laughs, “I’ll rust.”

Many years later, after an adrenalin-charged, 4-year stint overseas during World War II as a bombardier, Sam returned to Indiana. Under the G.I. Bill, he pursued a Master’s Degree at Purdue University. It was there that he met his wife, Clara, nine years his junior, about which, Sam says, “Now it doesn’t make any difference,” as a way to dismiss any conversation about a younger bride. The new couple established a home in the vicinity of the JCC on the north side, so it was only natural that they would become members. They raised their two daughters, Denise and Janet, and son Howard, at the JCC.

When asked if he always liked to exercise, Sam’s answer is quite matter of fact: “Well, a little bit. I didn’t really start hard until I was 62.”

It was a gift from his children for his 62nd birthday that inspired Sam to get serious about exercise: a 3-speed Raleigh bicycle. His inaugural ride may have only been 5 miles, but he quickly amped up the mileage and hasn’t quit pedaling since.

“I can’t break the machine,” he chuckles.

Perhaps the best result of all this activity is that Sam has achieved his goal of remaining independent and not needing assisted living. When asked how the JCC has impacted his life, Sam doesn’t hesitate with answering, “It has kept me going!”

More about Mindi Epstein

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