Aged Suffolk cyclist retires

Published 10:23 pm Friday, August 24, 2018

A veteran cyclist and Suffolk resident competing in the oldest age brackets possible closed the book on a lifetime of competitions with yet another statewide victory medal.

Aiye Niwaju-Wood, a 77-year-old who can still pedal fast, won the gold medal at the Peter and Gerald Teeuwen Memorial Time Trial and Virginia Age-Graded State Competition held on Aug. 12 at Deep Creek Park in Chesapeake. The victory marked Wood’s official retirement from competitive cycling, much to the chagrin of race organizer Christina Teeuwen, who has come to respect the tough racer over the past several years.

“He’s very competitive, and I’m glad that he came out, but I don’t think he should quit,” Teeuwen said in a phone interview. “We’ll add an 80-plus category for him when he reaches that age.”

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According to, Niwaju-Wood finished with a time of one hour, six minutes and 46 seconds. He was also the only competitor for men aged 75 and older riding against the sun and wind that day.

“I never had a tailwind,” he said. “You expect to go one way into the wind and then come back with a tailwind, but no. It was windy in both directions like a crosswind. You didn’t really get much of an advantage.”

He was photographed with a broad smile on his face, fists up in the air and his medal hanging from his neck. He said it was like “closing a door” on decades of competition.

“Just wanted to finish on top. I wanted to finish proud of myself, because I knew this was going to be my last competitive race,” he said.

His time on wheels began in the mid-1950s, when he was running for the Andrew Jackson High School track team in New York City. He was 15 years old and was encouraged to start riding by his friends for physical conditioning.

Soon, he had a souped-up English bicycle with the handlebars adjusted downward and locked in top gear. He didn’t get an actual road bike until the 1980s, he said.

Under the tutelage of Amos Otley — who would later work for the United States men’s national cycling team — Niwaju-Wood competed and placed in competitions throughout New York and across the country. It was an intense transition for the young athlete to go from running shoes to pedals.

“In order to be competitive, you’ve got to ride at least 100 miles a week,” he said. “Sometimes you’re doing intervals, sometimes you’re doing hill work, but you should average about 100 miles a week.”

But he was a powerful sprinter with athletic abilities he credits to his parents, Ivy and Edward Wood, who had first met when they were running track, Niwaju-Wood said.

“I wasn’t in shape, but these big legs are good for something,” he said in reference to one of his first major wins.

He stopped racing competitively in 1958 after he graduated high school and started working but came back to the sport in the 1980s. He’s cycled on-and-off throughout his life but has always come back for the freedom and speed that he loves.

“Imagine you’re going 20 to 30 miles an hour under your own skill. My top speed is about 24 or 25 right now, unless I’m going downhill. You have the breeze in your face and you’re free. It’s beautiful,” he said.

He met his best friend when he first came to Hampton Roads in 1994. He said his bike had been damaged during airline travel and he brought it to Conte’s Bike Shop in Virginia Beach, where he met manager Walter Gardiner.

The two of them became fast friends, even faster when they rode together in the early mornings before Walter opened up shop.

“He was whooping my butt because I wasn’t in my best shape, but gradually I caught up to him,” Niwaju-Wood.

Niwaju-Wood went back to New York City in 1999 to practice his music — he’s still an avid jazz musician today — but came back to Hampton Roads in 2012 and got back in the racing game.

According to, he earned gold for his age bracket in the Todd Stadium Criterium held in Newport News in July 2017. That was less than six months after he had his accident in Suffolk. Niwaju-Wood said he was making a turn in the Riverview community when a dog ran up to him, causing him to lose control.

The accident left him with a fractured femur, broken left hand and a concussion. The dog, however, was all right.

“It was my favorite breed too, a Boxer. I love those dogs,” he said.

With a showcase in his Suffolk residence filled with victory photos and medals, Niwaju-Wood can still clearly compete, but he said that his body has been telling him it’s time to retire.

“There’s no one else (my age) to race, and my body is telling me it’s time,” he said. “I train hard today and it’s hard for me to walk the next day.

“I’ve been through two cancer scares and I’m still here. No use in being stupid now.”

He plans to spend time with his family, which includes his daughter, Daphne Culvertson, his son, Brent Wood, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He’ll also keep up with his jazz music.

Above all, he’ll be able to ride his bike casually around Suffolk with the wind his face and not a single care about the clock.

“There’s no pressure to look at the speedometer. I can ride as fast or as slow as I want,” he said.