Having celebrated his 109th birthday last November, France’s Robert Merchand has lived through both the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919 and now the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
At the age of 105 Merchand set the world record in his age group, covering 22.55 kilometers in one hour at a velodrome in Paris. “But,” Merchand said in an interview with The Associated Press afterwards, “I didn’t know I only had ten minutes left. Otherwise, I would have gone faster to try and achieve a faster time.”
Even while setting world records, Merchand’s goal was to inspire and motivate others. “I’m not here to be a champion,” Merchand told Eurosport after his race in 2017. “I’m here to show people that you can still ride a bike at the age of 105.”
No ordinary life
Merchand’s background is as special as his athletic abilities, AP discovered. Merchand lived during the time of World War I and II, worked as a firefighter in his younger years, drove trucks through Venezuela, and later moved to Canada to work as a lumberjack.
In his late 60s Merchand returned to France to work several jobs and there wasn’t much time for training after a hard day of work. At 68 he started to ride his bike again and the 1.52 meters (5 feet) tall Merchand really enjoyed longer rides. He rode his bike from Bordeaux to Paris, from Paris to Roubaix, and even from Moscow to Paris in 1992.
He set that world record at 105 and, two years ago, at 107, competed in a 4,000 m race at the same velodrome. According to a report on francebleu.fr he stopped riding outside at 108 due to hearing loss.
So how has Merchand remained so healthy? Merchand’s coach Gerard Mistler told AP that he eats lots of vegetables and fruit, doesn’t smoke, rarely drinks, goes to bed early and is active every day. He’s remained active even while staying isolated in his apartment in the suburbs of Paris during the current pandemic.