Tad Hodgert eased his cyclocross bike through the Deschutes National Forest along Ben's Trail. Dawn had just broken and his knobby tires spun easily on the firm dirt. While Hodgert frequently rides his bike, his 10-mile morning commute to his dental practice through the woods from his home near Skyliner Sno-park is far from ordinary.
"I think I probably have one of the seven best commutes in the country," said Hodgert, allowing for some neighbors who also take the trail to get to town. "If I take the bike, I'm playing on gorgeous single track. I (arrive at) work bright and energized. It makes the whole day go good."
That Hodgert rides his titanium cyclocross bike – which requires more nimble attentiveness than a mountain bike – speaks to the 72-year-old's secret for feeling youthful and staying active: "Keep playing." It's something like a mantra to which Hodgert, a competitive cyclocross racer, owes his recent second overall placement in the masters 70+ category in the Cyclocross Crusade series. The eight-race cyclocross series, which organizers say has the most participants of any series in North America, culminated at Barton Park near Oregon City on Sunday. After the race, the creases of Hodgert's face were caked in dust.
"It felt good to empty the box," he said.
A gleam in the eye
Hodgert finds something timeless about bike racing.
"Racing is kind of like what we did when we were 8- or 12-years old – a bunch of buddies getting together and playing," Hodgert said. Racing gives him added incentive to train, maintain his health and eat well.
"And the social aspect and the play is so important in old folks," he said with a laugh.
Hodgert's teammates on the Deschutes Brewery Cyclocross team describe him as a pillar and mentor. Deschutes team captain Jordan Miller, 36, prefers "team sage." Former team captain Craig Mavis, 64, who is the manager of engineering at Deschutes Brewery, said Hodgert's connection to Bend's cycling community was clutch in recruiting members for the team's first cyclocross season in 2012.
"He was responsible for bringing on a third or about half of the team," Mavis said, adding that Hodgert is a long-serving board member and team sponsor through his dental practice.
Bend resident Frank Fleetham, who's 75 and races for Deschutes rival Boneyard Cycling, considers Hodgert competition – if only in that they race in the same masters 70+ category.
"He looks at you with a gleam in his eye. He has a very special gleam when he's pushing you on," said Fleetham, adding that Hodgert consistently smokes him. "Tad is very supportive of just about everybody."
Hodgert's example isn't lost on the younger generation of local bike racers.
"Tad is a great example of just keeping it moving," said retired professional racer and Bend cycling coach Bart Bowen, 51. "He makes me wonder if I'll still be playing when I'm 72."
Hodgert stays busy not only with play but with his private dental practice, Masters of Dentistry, located in NorthWest Crossing. He continues to work nearly full-time, specializing in complex dental reconstruction and sinus grafts.
"I guess I love what I do. I spent a long time building this craft and there is always more to learn," said Hodgert, who also mentors several dentists. "It's like everything else, work keeps me involved and living."
When Hodgert doesn't bike to work, he opts for his Italian SUV. He's still waiting for the right conditions to take the trails by nordic skis, he said. Sometimes he drives to accommodate after-work plans, which recently involved meeting his daughter Isabelle Grace Hodgert, who attends Boise State University, and her friends at a sports bar to watch the school's team play football.
"It'll be the first time I've ever watched a football game," Hodgert said with a grin. He is the father of five children from two marriages. "I really don't get the 'hurt you' sports."
What Hodgert does get is any number of endurance sports, having racked up many individual, pairs and team victories at the Pole Pedal Paddle since winning the masters 40+ category in 1987, he said. Hodgert and his family won "Bend's First Family" in 2016. He dedicates a bookshelf to his ceramic mug collection – PPP trophies – in his living room.
Hodgert often makes his home available to out-of-town athletes competing in the PPP and the Cascade Cycling Classic, a multi-day bicycle stage race in Bend.
He also flings open doors to new racing opportunities.
Once Fleetham and Hodgert reached their 60s, Hodgert asked Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation, which organizes the Thrilla Cyclocross Series each autumn in Bend, to carve out a masters 60+ category for them. MBSEF accommodated them again when they reached their 70s. MBSEF events director Molly Cogswell-Kelley remembered the requests with a laugh.
"Man that guy is tough. He used to beat me in my early 40s in races," Cogswell-Kelley said. "What's really cool was that Tad not only advocated for himself to race with people his own age, but he motivated other people to join that category. I'm really glad that Tad made me aware that just because you're 70 or 75 that doesn't mean you're not going to race cyclocross. Tad's a beast."
He's also a peacemaker. As a way to diffuse some cyclocross team rivalries that were less than amicable, in 2013, Hodgert began hosting Brewery Fest, an annual unofficial race and party, on his property.
"I thought the best way to turn that around was to get the teams together, get families involved, for a fun day," Hodgert said of the event, which is better known as Tad Fest. "It's worked great."
While Hodgert is an experienced multi-sport athlete, he attributes winters spent felling trees on his 50-acre property to his many age-group victories at the PPP. Over several winters, he cleared 6 kilometers of the trail to keep his active son, Reitler Hodgert, occupied with nordic skiing. After one of these physically intensive winters, Hodgert raced the PPP without any other preparation.
"There is enough fitness from the chainsaw," Hodgert said. "And snow shoveling."
While working with timber has kept Hodgert strong, it also took away his ability to run any substantial distance after he fell 30 feet from a cluster of half-fallen trees. He had climbed up with a chainsaw to untangle them when the braid trees gave way. Hodgert fell three stories onto his back, permanently displacing a vertebra, he said.
"I had this Wile E. Coyote moment, walking off a cliff, hanging onto a chainsaw instead of an anvil," he said. "(In that moment) I made the decision to manage the chainsaw – which was big, sharp, and rippin' – and not the fall."
Hodgert maintains his back strength with focused core strengthening and with direction from his partner, Carolyn Daubeny, 54, a massage therapist and bike racer.
"She keeps my back put together," Hodgert said.
'An amalgam of traits'
Three-time national champion nordic ski racer Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess, 32, met Hodgert shortly after moving with his parents to Bend in 2000. Then 14, Blackhorse-von Jess was a newbie to nordic who had previously competed as a national-caliber junior archer. When his parents sent him to Hodgert for a dental appointment, the pair struck up a rapport.
"Sometimes you just develop a connection with people in the strangest ways and you form lifelong connections," said Blackhorse-von Jess, who also became close with Hodgert's son, Reitler, through nordic skiing. "There is a sort of mystical element to the human connection that I don't necessarily understand but I definitely appreciate."
After Blackhorse-von Jess graduated high school and joined nordic skiing's elite junior ranks, his parents left Bend in 2008. Blackhorse-von Jess stayed thanks to a family-friend network.
"They were definitely a critical part to (my) making it," said Blackhorse-von Jess, who described Hodgert's looking after him and inviting him to family dinners. He worked on Hodgert's property and also performed database administration for his dental practice for 14 years.
"Every person and I think this is really true for young men, can benefit hugely from strong male role models," Blackhorse-von Jess said. "Tad is an amalgam of traits that make him unique. He doesn't waffle on those traits. He is that person. ... Tad is always adamant about stepping back and doing your thing – whatever it is. Tad has always found beauty in the act of physical motion."
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