Brain Champions Nanci Adler and Don Crowell


Nanci Adler and Don Crowell love cycling, for all the right reasons: physical exertion, recreation, transportation and life immersion. Don gushes when you ask what what stokes their cycling passion, joyful rushes of explanations pour forth. Don gushes, “It’s feeling the wind against my face and recapturing the playfulness of being a kid again.”

But it’s also more than that. For Nanci and Don, cycling is a lifelong pursuit. They met in a bicycle club back in 1982 and got married in 1985. They have happily cycled, expanding their horizons and activities ever since.


The couple goes everywhere on their bicycles, from local rides on the Seminole Wekiwa trail to the streets of foreign countries. Nanci and Don have pedaled through  Austria, Canada, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, France, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, England and most recently, Switzerland, have all witnessed Don and Nanci riding through their streets with just what they can carry on their backs. On average, their cycle vacations extend three weeks and each trip covers about 600 miles.

Exploring the world on a pedal-driven two-wheeler is not for everyone. Yet nothing appeals to Don and Nanci more than mapping their own routes through quaint towns and picturesque countryside, pedaling beside winding rivers and stopping at charming spots along the way. Nanci claims, “Cycling is the best way to travel, it gets you close to the ground, and right next to the sites and people you came so far to see.”

According to these two, bicycle riding is both cognitively challenging and motivational. Planning your route in advance – or if you decide to change it at a moment’s notice – means you have to be able to read maps and to develop a sense of direction. More importantly, when on the bicycle, you must at all times maintain an acute sense of what is happening around you. You must pay full attention to riding for your safety and the safety of others.


Cycling around the world inspired Don and Nanci to pursue another brain healthy activity, one that is truly associated with boosting cognitive function, learning a second language. Don is already quite accomplished at reading and conversing with native speakers in German. Each week he assists an older, German-speaking woman with her grocery shopping. In return, he’s treated to several hours of German-only conversation. Don advances  his understanding of the language by avidly listening to the morning news in German, reading bicycle magazines in German and he attends a German conversation group every other week.

Nanci is not quite as advanced in her foreign language acquisition but she sure is persistent. Each week Nanci skypes with her daughter, who is a French translator, and together they read Agatha Christie books out loud to one another in French. She also listens to French television and particularly to the news in “slow” French. Nanci professes to be a more tentative foreign speaker than her husband. Yet, both Nanci and Don are firm believers that when it comes to learning a foreign language, “you need to have a threshold of knowledge so you’re comfortable enough to put yourself out there.”

That is exactly what Nanci and Don do; they put themselves out there. It’s the perfect rural image, cycling through farm country only to stop at a roadside fruit stand for a seasonal snack and a quick conversational exchange in the native tongue of the stand’s owner. For them, one of the rewards of learning a foreign language is the unique experience of combining their favorite sport (cycling) with their favorite pastime (travel).

Nanci and Don don’t confine their cycling to far-away countries and indulging in the culture and language of the places they visit is not the only type of bicycle riding Nanci and Don engage in. You can find them riding the local trails right here in sunny Central Florida. Their standard local trip is a 25 to 40 mile stretch with a cruise speed of 18 miles per hour. The aim of the local rides is less about taking in the scenery and more about getting in a cardio workout. Pumping the legs until they hurt, getting that heart to race and riding hard is what it’s all about.

Whether they are riding through local neighborhoods or attacking the Seminole Wekiwa trail, Nanci and Don are conscientious about wearing helmets, obeying street signs and being courteous to others who share the road with them. And while these two cycling enthusiasts may seem a little hard core to those of us who rarely climb a top a bicycle, their message is undeniably clear: cycling is a fun path to staying physically fit and brain healthy. Nanci loves it when people think she and Don are being so disciplined every time they get on their bicycles. What she really wants you to know is “we just do it for fun.”