Spinder revels in retirement

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Bill Spinder got serious about mountain climbing several years ago, after a blown-out knee forced him off the ski slopes and marathon courses under doctor's orders.

He admits he probably shouldn't be climbing, either, but everyone's pain threshold is different, and Spinder is willing to tolerate sore knees for the joy of living retirement his way.

On Monday, Spinder celebrated his 70th birthday by summiting Mount Elbert, Colorado's tallest peak and the second-highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states, in 3 hours and 20 minutes.

Close friend Cam Boyd and fellow hikers Eric Gautreaux, Greg and Sean Forney, and Bobby Banks accompanied Spinder on the trip to the 14,433-foot summit.

For Spinder, it wasn't as much about standing atop Mount Elbert as it was about getting there. For him, the journeys he's attempted since age 50 mostly have been about proving to himself that he can make it to his destination.

"Most people think that as you get older you should stop doing things," Spinder said. "I think you get older when you stop doing things. That's one of those anonymous sayings, and I've kind of adopted that thinking."

Growing up in what Spinder terms a "rough" neighborhood in Rochester, N.Y., he gave little thought to college until he entered the Army, where he effectively grew up.

He enrolled in the State University of New York after leaving the service and became a high school special education teacher at an inner-city school in Rochester.

"The inner city was where I felt I would be most effective," Spinder said.

Like most teenagers and 20-somethings, Spinder believed while he was growing up that life effectively ended at 40. But when he retired nearly 30 years ago, he was determined to make certain that his post-retirement years were the most enjoyable ones of his life.

"My main thing was that if I was going to work my whole life to retire, I wanted to be a happy retiree," Spinder said. "I wanted to be like I am now. To be honest, I'm in better shape now than I thought I'd be."

Physical fitness has never been a lifestyle choice for Spinder. It is more of a byproduct of his marathon, triathlon, downhill skiing and, now, mountain-climbing training.

He has finished 46 marathons, participated in four Ironman triathlons in Hawaii, completed more than 100 10Ks and summited nine of Colorado's 14ers, including Mount Elbert earlier this week. He hiked his first two 14ers at age 60. He also served as a ski instructor for the Steamboat Ski Area.

Six years ago, doctors recommended he quit skiing and running after he tore his lateral meniscus in his left knee.

"I'm losing my faith," Spinder said in the doctor's assessment. "You have to do what you have to do. I think you need to find out if you can run before you just assume you can't."

And if he can still run, he will. Marathons and Ironmans gave Spinder an excuse to travel the world and meet new and interesting people.

He arrived in Steamboat Springs after befriending Larry Adams, a Steamboat ski instructor, at an Ironman in Hawaii in the early 1980s.

Adams and his friends arrived two months early to train in Hawaii's climate in 1983, as did Spinder. One afternoon, Adams said, "This old guy, like 50 -- we were right out of college -- started giving us pointers."

At the time, Spinder was ranked seventh in the world. Upon completion of the race, the two formed a team that ended up traveling the world together competing in various competitions.

Adams and Spinder paired up again in Steamboat after Spinder decided to move to town to become a ski instructor several years after the two met.

Adams introduced Spinder as "Coach" to everyone in Steamboat, stemming back to the days when Spinder offered Adams triathlon-training advice. The nickname just stuck.

Spinder's attitude on life has left quite an impression on his friends as well.

"I never thought I'd be best friends with a guy that's 30 years older than me," Boyd said. "He's got more determination than anyone I know."

Conquering Mount Elbert has been a goal of Spinder's for more than a year. He trained on area trails and at the gym, and Boyd said his friend could have climbed two mountains Monday because he was so focused on achieving his goal.

At 70, Spinder views his life as just beginning. With a list of mountains to climb, he has another excuse to travel the world.

"It's good to see someone at his age with that attitude," Greg Forney, 47, said. "He's still trying to go out and gain new life experiences. To me it makes me aware that life is about growing and becoming more. He's an inspiration to keep pushing."

--To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208

or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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