To the beat of a different drum: Eighty-year-old Adelle Sperling bikes around Homewood daily

Lifelong Homewood resident Adelle Sperling, 80, bikes to O’Henry’s on 18th Street daily. Photo by Madoline Markham.


Adelle Sperling drives a car about once every six weeks. The rest of the time, the 80 year old rides her bike.

“You’d say she acts like she’s 25,” said Dr. Johnny Peebles III, her neighbor of 50 years. “She has the health to go along with her actions.”

“I ride a minimum of 15 miles each day,” Sperling said. “Sometimes it’s 22 or 23, depending on the weather.”

Biking around Homewood daily isn’t the only thing that sets her apart from a crowd, either.

In 1957 she was one of five women to graduate from the University of Alabama School of Medicine in downtown Birmingham. As one of few female ophthalmologists of her day, she became head of the VA Eye Clinic in Birmingham before going into private practice in Southside on 11th Avenue.

In her 40s, Sperling took up ice-skating for fun. At 57, she got on a bike for the first time since she was a teenager.

On Thursdays she walks from her home near the Shades Valley YMCA to Brookwood Hospital for continuing education to keep up her medical licensure. She has walked to the Jefferson County Department of Health and Medical Center and Social Security office downtown.

“I was adventurous,” she said.

Each day Sperling bikes by Homewood Central Park past the Homewood Library and Nabeel’s to downtown Homewood. She usually takes a pit stop at the Homewood Community Center and talks to the ladies there before going on to O’Henry’s.

At the coffee shop she orders a bagel and coffee, catches up with friends and reads the paper. Sometimes it’s mid-afternoon by the time she gets home.
“You meet an awful lot of interesting people at O’Henry’s,” she said.

If Sperling has struck up a conversation with you along her way, she’s probably convinced you of the necessity of taking vitamin D supplements, shared her support of animal rights and animal shelters, and conveyed how she enjoys computers and her two cats.

Sperling’s biking hasn’t gone without injury. One day she said she was run over by a station wagon on Lakeshore Drive.

“I jumped off the bike when it happened,” she said, “but it took six weeks before I could walk up stairs like normal again.”

Today Sperling is cautious on the road and is sure to protect herself. A rearview mirror is mounted on Sperling’s pink helmet.

“I wouldn’t go anywhere without a helmet if you paid me,” she said.
A lifelong Homewood resident, Sperling has lived in the same house almost consecutively since 1938 when her father bought it. She went to Shades Cahaba School through eighth grade and then Phillips High School. She later graduated with a degree in chemistry from Birmingham-Southern College.

Sperling completed her residency in Birmingham before leaving for further training in Boston and New York City. Although she has been proud to call Homewood home for most of her 80 years, that does not mean she doesn’t plan to travel more—with her bike of course.

“I might want to bike through Napa Valley one day,” she said.

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