By June Mathews
If Todd Higey made any resolutions for the New Year, it’s doubtful that “get more exercise” was among them.
That’s because staying fit is not something he doggedly pursues in January, occasionally thinks about in February and gives up altogether by March, as most resolutions go. It’s a way of life for him.
A competitive cyclist who relishes the challenge of pedaling up a mountain as much as he enjoys the thrill of sailing down the other side, Todd now rides an average of 150 miles a week.
“It’s the perfect synthesis of man and machine,” said the 37-year-old Birmingham attorney. “There’s something cathartic about cycling in general and competition in particular. For a moment, you forget all the stresses of life, and you’re one with the road, one with the bike and one with nature.”
For the past couple of years, Todd has competed in triathlons (swimming/cycling/running) but recently returned to cycling alone. He first raced in high school. But then life intervened, and the demands of college, law school, career, marriage and kids didn’t permit serious cycling for a while.
Gradually, it became a priority again.
But even while he wasn’t cycling, there was never a question about keeping active in some form or another. He always did. In fact, Todd met wife Kelly while hiking.
“We fell in love hiking in the North Georgia mountains,” he said, “and now we go hiking as a family.”
Todd came by his active lifestyle honestly. By example, dad Ron Higey encouraged Todd and his two younger siblings, Jason and Rachel, to be physically active as they were growing up.
When Todd was 13, Ron built a bicycle for Todd that proved to be the catalyst for the younger Higey’s lifelong love of cycling.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, and I didn’t want to invest in anything new if Todd wasn’t going to get involved in riding, so that’s why I built it,” Ron said. “Someone had thrown a bike away, so I took it, stripped it, repainted it and replaced any parts that needed to be replaced. It looked like a new bike.”
It wasn’t long before father and son were riding together, even though cycling wasn’t at the top of Ron’s list. Soon after that, Todd was out-riding his dad.
“I started riding with Todd so we’d have something to do together,” Ron explained. “I knew he needed to exercise and to spend some time with me.”
And even though Ron will quickly admit that Todd now far surpasses him in the number of hours and miles ridden, the 59-year-old pastor of Vestavia Alliance Church and community volunteer manages to cycle an average of 2,500 miles a year. He and wife Judy have even taken cycling vacations, once traveling by bicycle up the coast of Maine and over to Prince Edward Island.
“You meet people and see spectacular scenery you miss when you fly or drive,” he said.
And just as Todd learned through the example of his dad, he, in turn, encourages his own children — Justin, 12; Caleb, 9; and Emma, 6 — to stay active, too. Not only do the kids see him maintaining a fitness regimen of his own, he gets involved in theirs by helping with their swim teams at the Greystone YMCA as a timer and clerk of course.
Todd swims for cross-training purposes, so swimming is a sport the whole family loves and can enjoy together. And that, said Ron, is the point of pursuing sports and other physical activities as a family.
“It’s about relationships,” he said. “My wife and I are taking dance lessons, and each time we go, we’re laughing and talking and out together having fun. When I’m riding with Todd, we have hours to talk. It helps relationships.”
Todd agreed. “When the family participates in activities together, it creates a bond, especially between fathers and sons. Men often relate through action, so participating in sports together is a way of strengthening that bond,” he said.
One of the biggest keys to cultivating a “fit family” mentality, said Ron, is creating a family atmosphere in which it can flourish.
“As far as our own children, I don’t think we pushed them to do anything,” he said. “We just did it. We didn’t allow TV and video games to compete for their time and attention. It was just the lifestyle we had.”
Ron also has personal reasons for wanting to stay fit and wanting his family to do the same. Before moving to Alabama, he worked in an open-heart surgery unit at a hospital in Ohio, where he daily saw the sad effects of failing to exercise and eat right.
“I realized a lot of the people there had chosen to be there by not taking care of themselves,” he said. “I decided I never wanted that type of surgery. And in a spiritual sense, if you believe your body is a temple of God, then you’re obligated to take care of it.”
On the other hand, he’s seen people much older than he is leading active lives and enjoying good health.
“That’s what I want to be like,” he said.