SYRACUSE, N.Y. — About seven years ago, Tom Coyle had to make a tough choice.
For 11 years, he had run to keep in shape. But after arthroscopic surgeryto repair torn cartilage in his knee, the 65-year-old had to find another sport.
"The surgeon said, 'I fixed that (knee) up, but you better take up some other form of cardiovascular exercise, because if you keep this up in another 10 years, you won't be able to walk,' " recalled Coyle. "He suggested swimming or biking, so I thought, I can take the bike with me, but I can't take the pool with me."
Astride his pink handle-barred racing bike, Coyle is still a familiar sight on the roadsof Harford County. Three or four times a week, he cruises along a 17-mile loop between his Aberdeen home and Churchville. Before a big race, Coyle will extend that to a 45-mile round-trip course to Jarrettsville and back.
For the past few weeks, Coyle added a few extras to his training in preparation for the U.S. National Senior Sports Classic here last weekend. To prepare for the tight turns on the road races, he rode on the track at Aberdeen Proving Ground, his second homefor nearly 40 years as a civilian evaluator of helicopters and weapons systems.
The training paid off, as Coyle, a veteran of the lasttwo national senior games in St. Louis, improved his times, speeds and placement in all four races from one mile to 20 kilometers.
He had won four gold medals in the 60-64 age group in the Maryland Senior Olympics, but the competition on the national level was a differentstory.
His top finish came in last Sunday's final race of the games -- 14th place in the 20K. Coyle completed the four laps on the tight out-and-back course along Lake Onondaga Parkway in 37 minutes, 14 seconds. The day before, he finished 18th in 18 minutes flat in the 10K.
But Coyle marked his performance on the national level not only by his time, but by whom he beat. In the 10K, he finished ahead of fellow Marylander Harvey Geller (18:13) for the first time. Geller won a gold medal in the five-kilometer race in the last national games.
"Harvey's a landmark," said Coyle. "To beat him in the 10K is an accomplishment. He's a fantastic athlete. He raced the first three (bike) races, but he skipped the last one because he's in the race walk. (Monday), he's in the triathlon."
Friend and fellow newcomer to biking, Pasquale Romagna of Joppa, was impressed with Coyle's performance. "When you first started, (Geller) used to be way up here and you were way down here," said Romagna, motioning with his hands. "Now you're about even. I'd say that's great."
Later this month, Coyle and Romagna, who did not compete against one another here, will join hundreds of other cyclists for a jaunt across Maryland in the annual CAM-Tour (Cycle Across Maryland). This will be Coyle's second CAM-Tour, in which cyclists ride 60 miles a day to traverse the state by a route that changes annually.
The CAM-Tour took much more energy thanthe senior games races, said Coyle. "I was concerned about plain oldfinishing. Before we left, I said I was pretty sure I could make thefirst day and maybe the second. But I didn't know about anything after that."
Never far from Coyle, no matter where he's racing or touring, is his wife, Marian. She times his races and chauffeurs him back and forth from hotels to the daily CAM-Tour starting spots.
"Am I his sideline coach? I'm everything," said Marian Coyle, after congratulating her husband on his final race, the 20K.
Marian, who taught for 24 years at St. Joan of Arc School, remains her husband's biggest fan, because she can see how he has benefited from his workouts.
"Athletics gives him incentive. Look at the shape he's in. We visit other people and all they talk about is their aches and pains. We don't have that," said the recreational swimmer.
Coyle also startedskiing a couple of years ago with the youngest of his three children, Ed, 34. Now the whole family heads to Vermont every winter for a ski vacation.
The Coyles already are thinking about heading to BatonRouge, La., in 1993 for the next senior games.
"There's a little bit of an ego trip in it, and I know my wife likes these vacations," said Coyle with a laugh.
Marian laughed, too.
"In October, after the CAM-Tour, we're going on vacation -- without the bike."