Larry Sietsma Bike Trek Raises Money, Awareness of MS
By Maria Sonnenberg, Space Coast Medicine & Active Living // August 25, 2014
It’s mid-July, but the weather is cool in Montana, just a few miles from the Canadian border. Larry Sietsma has gotten an early start on his cross-country bicycle ride and appreciates the chilly morning temps.
With about 70 miles to clock before sundown, it is a relatively light day for Sietsma, part of the group of 20 riders who left Bar Harbor, Maine, on May 28 to head west to Seattle, Washington, where they expect to arrive Aug. 4.
“You have to stay on schedule, rain or shine,” said Sietsma.
They bike six days a week, and on the seventh work all day helping with “honey do” chores at the homes of MS patients on the ride’s route. They sleep under tents, in community centers and even in churches.
“I slept on a nice soft pew,” said Sietsma.
Along the way of the 4,295-mile, 69-day trek, Sietsma and his biking buddies are raising $100,000 and awareness of the need for more research to eradicate multiple sclerosis, the chronic, disabling neurological disease that affects more than 2.5 million in the world, including Sietsma’s sister, Dolly Rice.
“The response has been amazing,” said Sietsma.
“Everyone seems to know someone with MS. It has been such a moving experience.”
Sietsma got an early start this morning, as he usually does, just to keep ahead of the pack of younger riders, primarily college students – some of them champion cyclists – in their teens and 20s. Sietsma is 75 years old.
“The only way I can keep ahead is to get up early,” said Sietsma, who joined the Bike the US for MS ride in honor of his sister and her fight against MS.
“Research has done wonders for people with MS, but the cure hasn’t been found yet,” said Sietsma.
Rice, by the way, last year wrote “Two + Two = Five,” a book about her adventurous and entrepreneurial big brother, a man who has flown around the world, visited both North and South Poles and launched two nationally-ranked home building companies.
“Larry does more, sees more and achieves more than the average person because he is not average,” said Rice.
“He has an unshakable moral compass that has guided him since we were children, and I wanted to share his story to provide an example for future generations. Larry can always be counted on to do the right thing, without hesitation. How many people do you know like that?”
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
Sietsma is indeed way out of the ordinary. The child of close-knit Dutch immigrant farmers, Sietsma served his country as a Marine fighter pilot in Vietnam. He flew the fierce F-8 Crusader jet fighters from “hot pad alert” in Guantanamo.
As a volunteer for the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum in Titusville, Sietsma was instrumental in the museum’s acquisition of an F-8 Crusader, a plane that he helps to maintain as a museum volunteer.
Before he embarked in homebuilding, he piloted Boeing 727s for Eastern Airlines for almost two decades. Even now, he continues flying. “I try to fly at least weekly,” he said.
His twin-engine Beechcraft Baron is not as large as the 727s or as powerful as the fighter jets he once flew, but it was sturdy enough to carry Sietsma on a 90-day around-the-world circumnavigation with his wife, Sherry.
AMONG LEADING HOMEBUILDERS IN AMERICA
A sixth sense told him Eastern Airlines would eventually go into a tailspin, so three years before the company passed away, Sietsma opted for early retirement, and seeing a need in the affordable housing market, opted for a new career as the creator of Holiday Builders.
He credits the leadership and discipline instilled in him by his military service as the critical reason for his success in the building industry.
With Holiday Builders thriving, Sietsma sold the company through an employee stock ownership plan and took off on his round-the-world jaunt. Upon their return, Larry and Sherry were often asked to show slide presentations of their adventures.
At one of those programs, someone in the audience lamented on the lack of good, solid housing that was within the means of working people. Seemingly overnight, in 2004 Sietsma was back in business, this time with Avtec Homes, the company he started with daughter Sandi.
The company was named one of the top fastest-growing companies in the United States by Inc. magazine.
Avtec created the highly energy efficient Showcase Home featured this spring in the Home Builders Association of Brevard’s Parade of Homes.
The house incorporates many of Sietsma’s recommendations, including a photovoltaic system that generates at least as much energy as it consumes. While his daughter runs the show, she still often asks her dad’s advice, particularly in home design.
His current long-distance bike ride was prefaced by cycling tips up Independence Pass and the Cottonwood Pass in the Colorado Rockies, locations with elevations of 12,095 and 12,126 feet respectively.
He biked 7,400 miles last year. At home, he cycles 50 miles several times a week, heading from his Indialantic home to Sebastian Inlet or north past Cocoa Village and back. While biking is an abiding passion, so is Alpine skiing, a sport in which Sietsma is a proficient black diamond level practitioner.
“I still ski four weeks per year in Aspen, Colorado,” he said.
ITCH FOR TRAVEL, NEED FOR SPEED
A Ferrari enthusiast, Sietsma is also an amateur race car driver, driving the bright red “sculpture on wheels” in gentleman racing events at courses such as Sebring.
He traveled to the North Pole on a Russian icebreaker and explored Antarctica aboard a scientific research vessel. His itch for travel continues to necessitate scratching with more adventures, even though Sietsma has visited 117 countries.
To motivate other older adults, Sietsma explains his rule for retirement.
“When you retire, you have a new job, and that is to exercise one hour each day,” he said.
Sietsma’s advice for seniors is succinct – and gauging by level of activity – right on the mark.
“You have to keep doing it, so you can keep doing it,” he said.