Old soldiers never die. They just pedal away.
Arthur E. Brown Jr. of Hilton Head Island, a retired U.S. Army four-star general, will be the grand marshal of Saturday’s Pedal4Kids Community Bike Ride to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club of Hilton Head Island.
He’s 86. He’ll ride 62 miles.
“I’m going to give it an Airborne try,” he said.
That means go the limit.
The 10th annual ride over pathways, roads and parks will have five different routes of various distances, from a family fun ride to a group of 62-milers who will be going faster than the old general.
Brown takes it seriously.
He was a runner — a 10K guy who did one marathon — until that pounded his knees and hips too much and he switched to cycling more than a decade ago.
He got cycling from his son, Arthur E. Brown III, a marathoner and elite cyclist. When the younger Brown was in the Army, they sent him to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in the buildup to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He did not make that final cut but has ridden all up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
“I take air out of his tires when we ride,” Art Brown said.
Brown goes at cycling with the drive of the high school halfback in Florence, Ala., and the military brat who had mediocre grades until he found his way to West Point. He then fashioned a 36-year career studded with medals as he rose to vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army before retiring in 1989 and moving to Hilton Head.
It wasn’t long between his first bike ride and buying Spandex. He got involved with the Kickin’ Asphalt cycling group on the island, starting with 10-mile rides every other day, mostly in Port Royal Plantation.
Now he goes with another group of riders who he says are faster than he is on rides of 30 to 45 miles three days a week.
He cruises on a Blue carbon-fiber bicycle he named “Blue Max” and has a Jamis alloy bike as a backup. He’s working with his original joints, still trim at 5-foot-6 and 145 pounds.
“It’s really a top-flight way of staying in good physical condition,” Brown said. “It will help you have a better health outcome, particularly for cardiovascular fitness and for the legs and arms. You still have to work on your core.”
He also notes that cycling is good for the economy on an island designated a gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community.
Few people know Brown is such a bicycle pumper. He has been better known as a quiet leader behind things like the United Way, Boys and Girls Club, or community foundation. He’s most visible as chairman of the Technical College of the Lowcountry Area Commission and won’t miss an opportunity to brag on its program to prepare active-duty military personnel for civilian jobs in aeronautics. “Gangbusters,” he says.
Pumping with purpose
But Brown’s ride hasn’t always been smooth.
Three years ago, he crashed on highway A1A in Melbourne, Fla. He still doesn’t know what happened. His shoulder was broken in six places, and he broke his pelvis. He said the worst of it was the bang his head took, despite a high-quality helmet. He wasn’t able to ride again for half a year.
Last year, Brown lost the love of his life, Jerry, who won her own medals as an exemplary military wife. The Savannah native had camped on Hilton Head before there was a bridge and helped guide them here for so-called retirement.
And this year, he’s agonized over the deaths of two cyclists on Hilton Head.
Early last Saturday morning, Matthew Proctor, 54, of Ridgeland was killed by a hit-and-run driver on William Hilton Parkway.
And the cycling community was stunned last month when Dr. Jeffrey Garske, 66, of Long Cove was killed in a hit-and-run crash on the Cross Island Parkway. A solid white bicycle and flowers now mark the spot.
“It’s just tragic,” Brown said. “He was a very, very accomplished rider.”
Brown was in the “roll out” of more than 100 cyclists who rode seven miles to Garske’s funeral to honor him and bring attention to bicycle safety issues. He also rides in the annual Ride of Silence to honor those who have been injured or killed while bicycling on public roads.
But this Saturday, the old soldier will pedal away for a happier cause.