Exceptional is defined as outstanding, excellent, extraordinary or special. So, what makes an aged man, named Gustaf Håkansson from Stockholm extraordinary?
Hakansson was 61 when he became interested in long distant cycling. He became thought of as an eccentric, but was taken more seriously after cycling 3,000 miles across the Arctic Circle and back to Gantofta.
Back home Gustaf heard of a cross county trip from North Sweden to the southern most point. A $1,000 prize would be awarded the winner. Thousands of people applied and had to pass rigorous physical testing. Only 50 racers would be accepted. Although the 66 year old passed the test, the cut off age for entrants was 40.
Crowds gathered on race day for the send off. Twenty seconds into the start a roar came up from the crowd when a solo, bearded man, in overalls darted across the line in pursuit of the young racers. Gustaf, on a lady’s bike had decided to make an unofficial challenge.
Slow and steady wins the race. Gustaf knew he could maintain his pace for days. After 50 miles he was 10 miles behind, but after 300 miles he was still cruising and 20 miles ahead of everyone. Unlike the official entrants Gustaf rested for only one hour each night, riding alone through the darkness of the mountains.
All of Sweden watched mile by mile. Gustaf who was given the name, Stålfarfar (Steel Grandpa) was quickly becoming a national hero with every turn of the pedal. After three days, with only five hours of sleep he led the pack by more than 120 miles.
Police were so worried about the Steel Grandpa’s health they hired a doctor and nurse to tag behind him. People along the ways greeted him with encouraging shouts and sentiments. A few miles from the finish line he stopped and dismounted his bike. The crowd thought he had reached his limit. Gustaf stepped out off his overalls and pulled on black shorts and vest with the number “0” emblazoned on it. “I want to look like a real cyclist,” he said.
Thousands of people gathered at the finish line. Within 800 yards of the finish line Gustaf suffered a punctured tire. The old man stayed slow and steady and wobbled on the bike across the finish line. In five days and five hours he was almost a full day ahead of the leading official competitor.
Hakansson did not rest after this victory. He continued to ride until his death at 102. Yes, truly exceptional.