Updated: Dec 8, 2019
THE BICYCLING BEAUTY QUEEN - AGE 70
Real People—Hello, that’s me—from the Vaseline and Neutrogena Sunscreen on my face down to the Hanes Panty Hose I always wear.
What makes “my look”? Not being afraid to be a little unique. Yes, I do wear “eyes and lips” but the skin you see is not pancake and powder—it’s me!–(ditto for the long, loose hairstyle). And, then there’s the long slim legs in short shorts looking smooth and slightly tan because of those wonderful “Alive” pantyhose that would never let you down (or bag or creep)!
Add a bicycle and a helmet with a tiara taped on it and you have now met Patricia Starr, the Bicycling Beauty Queen, officially proclaimed by the Mayor of Atlantic City. Flash-back to the year 2004 and my “senior citizen” life changed forever. I have no idea what I should have been doing at age 67 but there I was-- an untrained bicyclist pedaling a $600 bicycle with a fuzzy seat cover and a kick stand across America from Astoria, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire to raise money for music scholarships for students.
I’ve never placed myself in the category of being “normal”; but, on the other hand, I am and have lived a life as a professional musician performing on the pipe organ, piano, trombone and as a vocalist. I’ve taught public and parochial school and been Director of Music and organist at many churches and synagogues in the Santa Barbara area. I started teaching piano at age 13 while growing up in a small town in Nebraska named Wahoo. This would look like the profile of someone who would glide along in life doing what they had always done.
But, that wasn’t to be—the real “me” somehow emerged at retirement age and away I went. The past five years have contained more fun and experiences than most people could dream of to fill a lifetime. The book about the first bicycle ride across America premiered on January 2010 as the first 200 copies were dropped at our doorstep in Santa Barbara. “Angel on My Handlebars” had arrived! I ripped open the first box to actually “see” the finished product; scooped up the top book and ran my hands over the gorgeous cover with the gold embossed “Angel” lettering lingering over a soft, ethereal white cloud. That really was me standing there in my red shorts somewhere in Minnesota by my Felt bike with the fuzzy seat cover and “Patricia Starr” in big letters underneath. I was now an author, an unbelievable moment!
I couldn’t keep my hands off of “Angel” and carried the book around like a baby for the entire day. The cover was smooth and silky and the inner pages let my fingers slip over them with no rough edges. The entire book was printed on recycled paper as it is vital for all of us to be thinking ahead to save this fabulous place we call earth so our children can enjoy it too. Until the book was actually in my hands, I didn’t know what it would feel like. The exhilaration of that moment will be with me forever. I truly felt like I had given birth to a beautiful baby—except the gestation period for this baby was four years instead of nine months.
After dunking my front tire in the Atlantic Ocean and returning to Santa Barbara with body intact (well, almost—I was still in serious pain from a bicycle accident five days before the end of the ride)-what was I going to do with all of the memories of 50 days on the road. Wind, rain, heat, hail, some 120 mile days, angel experiences, heartbreak of our van stolen and burned, the unbelievable euphoria of bicycling over the Rockies at almost 10,000 feet, all the encounters my earthly angel, Gabriel, engaged in along the way—what was going to happen to all of those adventures stuffed in my brain? I remembered hating the weekly deadline of English Comp in college even though I managed to pull down an “A”. Writing family correspondence and necessary legal briefs surely wouldn’t qualify me for becoming an author. After several unsuccessful attempts to engage a ghost writer, I realized no one else could feel what I was feeling and get it down on paper because no one else had lived those experiences but me. I couldn’t let those memories disappear so I enrolled in a writing class. My teacher, Anne Lowenkopf, encouraged me to attend the prestigious Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference where I was astounded to be the recipient of the “First Place Excellence Award in Memoir” for material I had started working on for “Angel.” That was a catalyst to propel me forward to three more years of writing classes with Cork Millner, an excellent teacher and prolific author himself.
My mantra, DREAM*BELIEVE*ACHIEVE* slowly started to come into focus. I realized I could have a significant effect inspiring others to accomplish dreams of their own; physically help them learn to take care of the incredible bodies we are blessed with, and mentally to encourage all to keep dreaming. Don’t stop living because of the age number on your driver’s license!
The dream continued—the tremendous accomplishment of pedaling America was not the ending, it was only the beginning. The senior pageant system was intriguing as the competition was like Miss America but without the bathing suits. My piano prowess and previous modeling experience proved to be a good combo. Much to almost everyone’s chagrin, I won the first step into the Ms.Sr.California Pageant as Ms.Sr.Orange County in my favorite dress that turned out to be a serious “no-no”—it was a long gown with a bare midriff. It supposedly wasn’t elegant even though it looked great on me because I don’t have any doughnuts or other serious transgressions hanging around my middle!
I soon realized there were two opinions in the crowd—“bravo” and/or that I was just “too sexy” for the pageant. The judges must have fallen into the first category. They didn’t seem to mind that the hem on my performance dress was a little high and the cleavage a little low. Gabriel had built a special “lazy-susan” turntable to hold my grand piano that slowly rotated around one time as I performed my adaptation of Chopin’s famous “Polonaise in A Flat.” Everyone in the audience could see my flying fingers from all angles and were enthralled by Gabriel’s ingenious concept. There hadn’t been enough time between pageants to get his contraption motorized.
The audience didn’t know he was the Great Oz working his magic behind the curtain with a deep sea heavy duty fishing rod and reel turning the crank. The invisible fishing line connected to golden 6 inch high knobs around the perimeter of the platform so he could slowly rotate the disc and time it by watching me through a tiny slit in the curtain. Gabriel was a nervous wreck as it could have been a disaster but it made a perfect 360 degree turn and the crowd went wild.
I did win the California banner in 2006 and proudly represented them in Las Vegas and finished in the top five. The innovative “rotating grand piano” could not make the trip with us to Vegas. The Pageant hierarchy was hesitant as stage storage space was limited. The red, 1-ton truck I drove when Gabriel and I were working on our “extreme makeovers” on properties in Southern California probably couldn’t have made it across the desert anyway to deliver the seven foot wooden and tiled disc.
The Las Vegas Pageant, however, wasn’t without physical adversity. There is a saying, “It’s not how successful you are, but what you have overcome.” The adversity part was me! A few weeks prior to the Ms.Sr.America pageant, I crashed our van into a guard rail on the way home from a San Diego performance. Unfortunately, I had fallen asleep at the wheel due to cigarette smoke in a non-smoking motel room. Hoping to get a few winks, I had gone out to our van but had to share that space with my piano. Trying to snooze on two bucket seats with piano legs stuffed between them was not successful. I performed admirably that day on adrenaline but after driving home for four hours, it suddenly dropped out of my body only 15 miles from Santa Barbara. My eyes brim with tears remembering the panic of screeching metal and the van teetering on two wheels. If I had gone out three seconds later I would have smashed into the concrete overpass support at 70 mph. Thankfully, my angel spared us from certain death.
The crash resulted in a severe lateral whiplash that pulled my head forward and down into my neck—not exactly “Queen” posture. Two chiropractors and a physical therapist tried everything they could to remedy the problem and then a grapefruit-sized mass appeared at the point of injury on my neck as my fever shot upward. A previous brown recluse spider bite had left some nasty venom in me that localized in a weak spot—my neck. Gabriel dumped me in the van and took over my driving duties. I somehow survived the welcome dinner. There wasn’t much left of me to compete for the top crown in America for women over 60. I knew from experience of riding America that I would not let adversity win and it didn’t! Each day I became stronger!
When the judging got down to the top five, the points were extremely close. A lighting glitz caused by the show’s technician cost me some points that had nothing to do with my performance. I was playing a Boogie Medley that ended with the famous Jack Fina “Bumble Boogie” that had the audience cheering and clapping before I even finished! The 30 minutes it took the judges to decide the winner seemed like an eternity. We finalists stood “at attention” on the apron of the stage in our high heels with aching feet that had lived in those heels for the entire week of competition. Being judged on every item of your being and talent was an unknown experience. I’ve been a performer since I was 13 but being examined under a “magnifying glass” was entirely different.
Aside from that, meeting the other 33 contestants was an awesome experience. There was an entire group of women who felt like I did—we’re still here on this earth—let’s make the most of it and give it our best shot! The camaraderie of the group was electric.
For the next few years, a whirlwind of activity ensued as I joined The Sizzling Seniors of Southern California and thereafter enjoyed performing in Laughlin, Hollywood, Branson, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and numerous places in between that I had previously only dreamed about.
Because I was 2nd Runner-Up and had not won the Ms.Sr.America crown in 2006, another door was still open that I had never even considered. I was eligible to compete again.
At a Sizzler’s birthday party in Huntington Beach, Bill Kohler, husband of Marilyn, Director of the California Pageant said, “Patricia, why don’t you enter the pageant this year as Ms.Sr.Nebraska as they do not have a current representative.” Gabriel’s and my first response was, “NO WAY. The pressure and work was too much to handle again--we don’t even want to consider it.” However, on the two-hour drive back to Santa Barbara from the Los Angeles area, we started discussing “what if” and it soon turned into “why not.” Nebraska has always been in my heart even after leaving at age 21 to move to California and consequently live the major part of my life there.
I am a Cornhusker who literally grew up in a cornfield. We had purchased a beautiful old 1888 house the year before in Wahoo, where I was born and attended high school and junior college. What an opportunity to represent them in Atlantic City where the 2008 pageant was going to be held! They had no current Nebraska Queen but I could submit my application to be sanctioned to enter the pageant. The qualifications were birthplace, attending school, working or owning Nebraska real estate and I met all four requirements. By the time the official sanction was received from Pageant headquarters, it was the end of April, six months before the October pageant date in Atlantic City.
Now came the crazy part—participating in the pageant would be an undertaking but something we at least were familiar with so we figured we could handle it. We knew we couldn’t get our rotating piano disc to Atlantic City but nothing could stop my flying fingers. As Gabriel was talking to a friend about his “crazy wife” who was willing to try this again, the friend nonchalantly suggested, “Wouldn’t it be funny if she rode her bicycle there?” They laughed as Gabriel thought I would say ABSOLUTELY NOT. He knew my $600 bicycle had been sitting in our kitchen for four years since the ride across America. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be on that beautiful red Felt bicycle, our lives as real estate owners of rental properties kept gobbling up all my time. When they approached me with the idea, I said, “Sure, I’ll do it.”
Bingo! That started the biggest scramble of our lives. By now, we had only four months to prepare for a 1,400 mile ride, decide who was to benefit from it, and oh yes, also get ready for another competition under the “magnifying glass.” Gabriel was aghast and knew the bicycle could be polished up and repaired but worried “what about my wife who is now 71. Although she still looks great, she hasn’t ridden or trained for over four years!”
Did that fact stop us? No, and there ensued an unforgettable odyssey.
My next book, Journey of a Lifetime will fill in the ironic details that one of the judges slammed me for getting all the publicity and the other contestants didn’t—consequently costing me the crown. Let me share two exciting tidbits though. As we approached the Eastern seaboard, the Atlantic City media were getting nervous as they couldn’t believe a 71-year-old woman could do the ride and also I didn’t look old enough to be competing. They thought the whole thing was a hoax so demanded I send my birth certificate so they didn’t have egg on their faces! After all, in 30 years of Pageant history, no Queen had ever arrived on a bicycle.
Secondly, they had planned a fabulous entrance into Atlantic City. The five coastal cities in a row all had police escorts waiting for me, and the officers handed me over from one city to the next. As we approached Atlantic City, four motorcycle patrolmen escorted me down the entire length of the famous Boardwalk with lights flashing and sirens wailing as necessary. What a memory!
What’s next? Another bicycle ride next year for music education and scholarships is now in the planning stage. Stay tuned! Gabriel and I recently returned from Lincoln, NE where I was presented the 2010 Nebraska Ambassadorship for Girls and Women in Sports and Fitness. What an unforgettable evening to receive this award at half-time of the Women's Huskers Basketball Game (undefeated at 26-0) with 10,400 fans cheering and clapping as I waved to the crowd from Center Court.
My current life is focused on promoting “Angel”. Yes, it is a feeling of pride that I have a 50,000 word book published and I am an author! Hooray! It’s awesome to be able to share my words and feelings with my readers. I can encourage others to go for their dreams; take control of their bodies—put down that greasy fried chicken and those dripping, frosted cinnamon rolls and look for healthier alternatives; and stimulate your minds to try something new and maybe a bit crazy.
Don’t be afraid to dream*believe*achieve.
And remember, “Life has no limitations except the ones you make.”