How You Live Long: Sverre Falck-Pedersen

If you’ve spent some time in Door County, there’s a good chance you’ve crossed paths with Sverre Falck-Pedersen. You might have encountered him in a line of fast-moving cyclists on a town road, heading up the peninsula. You might have spotted him running on the soft forest trails of Peninsula State Park. Or perhaps you saw him destroying his age group during a local triathlon and making it look a little too easy – especially for a guy in his seventh decade.

“It’s the old mountain-climber story: It’s because I can still do it,” Pedersen said. “A guy can have a billion dollars, but that won’t improve his health. And it’s not about how long you live, it’s about how you live long.”

Pedersen is 73 years old, but at a glance, he might pass for one of his younger training partners. Part of this is undoubtedly genetics: He is 100% Norwegian, born not long after his parents came stateside. He’s demonstrated exceptional athletic talent his whole life and won national championships by developing his own unusual Door County training style.

But that’s just part of Pedersen’s story. With his wife and family, he’s built a life in Door County that’s not just about speed – it’s also about slowing down and living well.

“You have to like your life,” he said. “You’re the one that comes to each of these crossroads and makes a decision on which direction you’re going to take. It’s on you.”

Pedersen grew up in Chicago, and while attending high school there, he participated in an assortment of track events, including a mile relay team that qualified for the state meet.

Then, serving in the United States Air Force from 1968 until 1970, he was deployed to Vietnam, where he worked in heavy construction.

“My parents couldn’t afford school, so the game plan was for me to go into the service, grow up a little bit and get some bootstrap money to go to school,” he said. 

As Pedersen entered the Air Force, he felt he had some unfinished business with running, so he ran laps on an air base to stay fit. When he left the service in 1970, he enrolled in Parkland Junior College. 

There, he joined the track team and qualified for nationals in the 4×400, the intermediate hurdles and cross-country. He finished his education at Knox College and later spent a decade with Ohio-based Interlake Steel as a metallurgist.

In 1981, Pedersen took a pre-honeymoon trip to Door County with his new bride, Christine. That trip lasted just a few days, but they returned for good in 1986, purchasing a historical home and a cluster of cottages in Fish Creek.

“On a whim, I just called a realtor and asked if there was anything that could be turned into a bed-and-breakfast, and she said yes,” Pedersen recounted. “We literally made arrangements to come up the next week.”

The couple worked as innkeepers for about 25 years, raising their daughter, Annalise; operating the Thorp House Inn; and later running the Fish Creek Beach House, another lodging property.

Also in 1986, Pedersen responded to a newspaper advertisement for a Gibraltar High School cross-country coach. He began helping Dale Laviolette – a Gibraltar teacher and former All-American swimmer who was then the team’s head running coach – with the coaching and continued at Gibraltar in various coaching roles for 25 years.

Pedersen also competed as a runner himself, reaching a national level, despite his busy schedule as an innkeeper and a lack of traditional workout facilities.

Because of the inn’s seasonal demands, Pedersen could put in his best training during the winter months. He constructed a small gym in an old chicken coop, complete with a treadmill, sauna and weights. He ran hill sprints in Fish Creek and he turned many laps in the halls of Gibraltar High School. 

But school hallways bear little resemblance to a championship indoor track because they’re lined with lockers and have corners, not turns. In one spot at Gibraltar, the hallways don’t quite line up – a hazard when you’re running at full speed.

“You have to make a jig left,” Pedersen said.


This unorthodox training regimen worked, though, because in 1994, he won a national championship in the 1,500 meters for the 45- to 50-year-old age group. Over the years, he also earned several other championship medals and podium finishes in national running and cycling events.

Pedersen’s achievements came with a price, however. Although he hasn’t yet had a knee or hip replacement like some of his friends have, he has plenty of scars. If you glance down at his muscular cycling legs, above the running and cycling tattoos, you’ll see long strips of athletic tape running along his hamstrings.

“I’m held together with CBD balm and KT tape,” he said with a laugh.

Pedersen has had enough injuries from running and bike crashes to keep an emergency room busy. Over the years, he’s suffered pulls and strains, 38 rib breaks, five collar bone breaks and two scapula breaks.

But as he’s aged, he’s also developed a workout routine that helps to keep him healthy and on the go because it includes a lot of work on mobility.

“At my age now, it’s not about lifting heavy weights,” Pedersen said. “It’s about multiple reps and range of motion. You see old people taking baby steps – it’s because they have no range of motion. Everything I do is for range of motion, which is why I look like somebody who runs instead of somebody who is just hopping.”

Pedersen’s schedule includes a lot of endurance work, but the activities vary each day. On Tuesday, for example, he pedals a bike rickshaw in Peninsula State Park as a volunteer for a group called Cycling Without Age, which gives people who cannot bike the opportunity to enjoy a ride. 

After that, Pedersen heads out for a 50- or 60-mile group road-biking ride. In fact, he does something athletic almost every day: road biking, trail running or mountain biking. 

“He’s an inspiration,” said Brian Fitzgerald, a longtime training partner and friend. “He’s just been so consistent for such a long time. He’s very knowledgeable on how to stay fit and how to stay sharp. He’s had his fair share of injuries and crashes, but he always bounces back.”

But what really stands out to Fitzgerald is how Pedersen is so willing to help others. 

“He’s helped so many people get into biking,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a person. He’s just good energy.” 

On Fridays, Pedersen leads a spin class at the Door County YMCA, and on nice days, he drives his bright-red replica 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 to get there. Like its driver, the car is vintage, but also very fast. Yet after driving the car from class one recent day, he said he’s not just chasing speed. 

He and Christine spend winters in Venice, Florida, near where their daughter, Annalise, now lives, and their Door County home has shifted to Egg Harbor, overlooking the bay. Pedersen said the view is spectacular.

Although he loves to train, he compartmentalizes his training to allow plenty of time to simply slow down and watch the clouds over the water.

“I’ve always said that I’m the fastest person and the slowest person,” Pedersen said. “I’m the lizard on the rock. There is nothing that I enjoy more than just sitting on my lounge chair and looking out at the water and just appreciating it.”

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