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At 87, Forest Grove woman is still on a roll

Swimmer and cyclist Maxine Carlson got her first bike at Schlegel's in 1926 and just purchased her second one from the same Forest Grove store
by: Chase Allgood, When Maxine Carlson was six, her parents bought her a bike at Schlegel's Bicycles in Forest Grove. At 87, she purchased her second cycle at the same store.

The deep wrinkles on her face dance as she talks about her new custom-made bike from Schlegel's Bicycle Center, where her parents bought her first bike. At 87, Maxine Carlson's petite 4-foot, 10-inch frame simply refuses to quit moving.

Jim Schlegel, who inherited the business his grandfather, Charles, opened in 1924, has been telling everyone Carlson's story.

When she was six, her parents, Max and Mildred Reeher, bought her a 26-inch boy's bike. 'I think they put something on it to raise the pedals,' she said. 'It was black with chrome.'

Now Carlson has a new one - a 24-inch bike with a Schwinn frame that's perfect for her height. Schlegel built it from spare parts, replicating an old-fashioned bike with only one gear and coaster brakes.

The bike was ready in February, and Schlegel sold it to Carlson at such a reasonable price that she couldn't say no.

'He's such a nice man,' she said. 'He's the only business still in Forest Grove from my childhood.'

Carlson, who moved back to Forest Grove five years ago, gingerly steps onto her new toy. Her body moves slower now than it did in years past. She hasn't ridden since her mid-70s - more than a dozen years ago.

'I gave up bike riding because some cars in Seattle had run me into the ditch,' she said. 'Up there I didn't live near sidewalks, and the shoulder of the road was gravel. I fell a couple of times and my daughter was a little worried.'

Here she can ride in her quiet Homestead neighborhood of senior citizens. The traffic is much less of a concern, so she rides whenever the weather and her health allow.

Carlson has had two hip replacement surgeries, two back surgeries and most recently, knee surgery. 'The knee doctor said to keep the knee moving. I have to get my knees back,' she said.

Biking is a good low-impact activity for her knees. It requires her to bend differently than other activities do. 'Some days my knees are too stiff, and I feel shaky, so I don't go,' said Carlson.

But that doesn't mean she doesn't get her exercise. Carlson faithfully swims three times a week at the Forest Grove Aquatic Center with her sister, Ruth Estabrook, who is six years her junior. Carlson swims a mile each time - 72 lengths of the pool.

Carlson moved to Forest Grove to be near her sister. 'She says I'm bossy. We fight terribly, but we also can't get along without each other,' said Carlson.

They picked up a love for swimming from their dad, said Carlson. Max Reeher swam for Stanford University.

As kids, Carlson remembers taking a whole day to ride bike out to Gales Creek to go swimming. 'Three to six of us kids would bring a lunch and come back at 4 or 5 in the afternoon,' she said. 'No one ever worried. I wish kids now could be that free.'

Her dad also owned a cabin on the Wilson River near where Brown's Camp is today. 'From there we'd ride out to Balm Grove (now closed) or Rippling Waters,' she recalled. 'Sometimes we'd even swim under the B Street Bridge. If we could swim there and live through it, we could survive anything,' she said, laughing at how dirty the water was.

Carlson has always been an active person, and she can't seem to stop now. 'I'm not one to sit around,' she said. 'I just have to be doing something.'

A Forest Grove native, Carlson spent her entire childhood here attending Central Elementary, Lincoln Junior High, Forest Grove High School and Pacific University.

For Carlson, it was a great town to grow up in.

She graduated from Pacific in 1941 with a degree in history and psychology education, the second female in her family to graduate from college. Her mother was Pacific's first married female graduate in 1919, Carlson said.

Carlson wanted to be a school counselor, which was a new field at the time.

Then World War II started, and Maxine quickly married her high school sweetheart, Harold Carlson, who had joined the Armed Services. Although she graduated, she never received her certification. The couple moved to Florida, where Harold was stationed for the entire duration of the war.

After the war, Harold Carlson, who had an aeronautics engineering degree from Oregon State University, was hired by Boeing and the family moved to Seattle.

There they stayed until Harold passed away at age 55 of a blood clot in 1975. Faced with the need to enter the workforce, Maxine Carlson went back to school for her Red Cross certification, called for her 1941 Pacific transcript and applied to teach swimming at South Seattle Community College, where she taught for 17 years.

Her daughter Kristin was a swimmer in high school and college, 'but while she was swimming, mom didn't have any time,' said Carlson.

She picked up her childhood hobby where she left off and began swimming competitively with the Master's Swim Club in Seattle, placing a few times in the nation's top 10 and the top 10 in her age class.

She swam until she was 83 when she moved to Forest Grove. Her best strokes were the backstroke and the breaststroke, though she swam all of them. 'I learned the butterfly in my 60s,' she said.

Aside from her surgeries, 'I'm very healthy,' Carlson bragged. At 87, she doesn't take any medication.

In addition to swimming, Carlson and her sister visit the Forest Grove Senior Center a few times a week for meals and occasionally spend time at the family homestead near Lee's Camp. Her father bought it back after the Tillamook Burn fires and planted at least 10,000 trees with his Boy Scouts, she said.

Carlson also enjoys tinkering in her flowerbeds and, as spring sets in, she'll enjoy her daffodils and roses just as much as her new bike.

'I don't know how much I'll ride it, but it'd be fun to try when the weather gets nicer,' said Carlson. 'The bicycle is just an added thing.'