When you have led a healthy lifestyle for more than fifty years, you don’t imagine it’ll be your green thumb that sends you into an early retirement 10 years before you planned.
John Dunn was a nurseryman. He grew and sold plants at markets and to landscapers – natives, which he notes “are meant for our climate.” But 25 years of picking up trays of plants placed a continual strain on his back. By the time he reached his mid-fifties, he’d developed growths in his vertebrae which constricted nerves and caused sciatic pain and he could no longer work.
“I had to retire 10 years early because of my chronic back condition,” said John. “I’m doing reasonably OK but I can’t do too much. I’m a house-husband to Roxanne who continues to work as a teacher.”
Now 67 and two back operations later, John is a familiar face at the Y’s Manning Aquatic Leisure Centre five days a week. He says he’s always looked after himself and was the second member at the gym nearly 20 years ago before the Y took over in the mid-2010s.
He trains in the gym to help his back as well as a neurological condition that has reduced control and sensation in his feet, and a heart issue he’s been waiting two years to have operated on. He’s had to curb back his natural ‘gun-ho’ approach to fitness.
“I’m on an intensive program at the gym. As well as keeping my back and heart fit, I do it to manage peripheral neuropathy. I’ve corrected my foot drop through the gym and I’m pretty pleased with myself because most people don’t do the work,” John said.
John says he isn’t a swimmer but the pool is also part of his fitness routine and he’s recently taken to joining the new Meditation classes available at the Centre.
“I do water aerobics and walk in the pool. These have been the best things for my back. I know lots of people in the pool now and we always have a chat. I meet a lot of people who do physio in the pool like me because of their knees, hips, or back.
“I’ve also just started meditation – it’s fantastic! My sisters have been trying to get me to do it for ages and I was very reluctant to go. But one day, one of the ladies in the gym said ‘I’m going to meditation, you should come’ and in the spur of the moment, I did.
“It helps me mentally. If you get in the zone, your body sort of collapses and melts into the floor. It’s hard to explain. Afterward, I can’t get off the ground, I’m that relaxed.”
John sees the Y as a community that provides a vital source of social connection.
“I really enjoy the people I’m meeting. It’s another big benefit of being here. Loneliness is one of the biggest things in our mature years. You can make connections and have a chat. There is so much potential and many people need it. Margie who runs the gym is wonderful. She is effervescent, interacts, and talks to people. That makes a difference – she really goes out of her way.
“I think it’s really important to be physically active. I was an extremely active sportsperson. I can’t run or play tennis or surf anymore but I can bike ride. I couldn’t walk before without tripping due to foot drop and now I can walk on the beach and the soft grass. I might even get back into playing tennis!”