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Western Walkabout: 70 To 75 Years

“Some questions in life never seem to change – it’s the answers that have to change as we develop new coping strategies,’’ says Richard Harris, bringing his autobiography up to day.

I found that in this age group, I didn’t feel “old” but noted some biological changes – loss of strength in some of the major muscles. I noted that I didn’t need much sleep and being free of the nine to five work routine, I could do more or less whatever I fancied. So in this respect, age does have its compensations.

I undertook the Great West Australian bike ride, from Albany to Perth, with about 3 000 other cyclists, many of whom only did half the ride. I did the whole lot, over 14 days, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I kept myself well hydrated and didn’t have any problems with fatigue – just rode at my own pace, about 20 to 23 km/h.

Later I did the CTA’s Geraldton to Kalbarri ride. A highlight of this was a whale-watching expedition in a catamaran off the mouth of the Murchison River in a heaving Indian Ocean.

I went over the sea to Skye, to see my nephew Andrew and his partner Emma, who live in a croft at Corrin across the loch from Skye. Then I took the Euro star train under the Channel Tunnel to Paris, where I walked around for a week with my friends Jeffrey and Penelope who had taken an apartment there.

I had holidays in Bali, Malaysia – Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur – and a three week tour of Turkey, with Insights, starting and finishing at Istanbul. That was fascinating. I loved the ancient ruins, loved the food and learnt a few words of conversation.

Back in Perth, I went to see Prof David Wood at Hollywood Hospital about my left hip. He watched me walk, laid me down on a couch and bent my leg up towards my chest.

“You need a total hip replacement,” he said. “No more running or jumping. Find something else to do – walking, riding your bike, swimming but definitely no more running.”

He assigned me to a physiotherapy team to prepare my muscles for surgery.

When I came around, a tube in my arm, a catheter to empty my bladder, a few hours after the operation, Prof Wood told me to get up and take a couple of steps.

I was astonished but I did it with the help of two of his associates.

Prof Wood said the operation had been a success and I could go home now.

I looked at the wires and tubes everywhere, and said “Is it okay if I stay another night?”

“You can go whenever you want,” he said. “Come and see me in a few weeks time.”

I went to stay with my son for a week in Rockingham, then came home to Parkwood. Ten days after the surgery I was driving my car – a Kia Cerato manual.

I played bridge with the Melville Club, I joined the University of the Third Age and taught a creative writing group and a Sudoku group. I established a little walking group, the Gypsy Walkers, but I cancelled it after a while because the U3A people seemed reluctant to rise early to walk.

I went along to the Riverton Leisureplex and walked up and down in the pool, then I started going to the gym, then I went back to the Masters Athletics group and did a race walk. I came last but made an interesting friend of a man who was 80, had a knee replacement, and had taught all his life as a Christian brother. We have these lovely conversations about all sorts of things while walking together.

Next thing, I noticed a race walking championship coming up – a series of events over 5km, 10km and 15km – so I did a little training for these and entered them, and won a medal – first in my age group. This was uplifting for me and got me over the depression of not being able to run again. The fact that several other men beat me didn’t matter – they were all 75 plus and therefore in another category. Masters Athletics is like that. You must never write yourself off. Just get in and have a go and put your trust in the Lord.

I dropped my weight from 80kg to 75kg and found I could do from six to ten chin-ups on the high bar at the gym. My body responded hugely to regular workouts and a better mental attitude.

The global financial crisis was an amazing journey for me. My shares fell from a high of about $1.1 million to a low of $453 000, which is scary when you are powerless to do anything about it. I decided I would cut my costs, wouldn’t panic, and wouldn’t sell anything until there was some kind of recovery. I remembered Bible readings in primary school where there were seven good years followed by seven lean years, and thought, so what has changed? It’s important to hope for the best and keep going and stay grounded in values that are tried, trusted and enduring.

I’ve had an interesting life, with lovely friends around me. Australia has been a marvellous place to be and I wouldn’t be dead for quids.


For earlier episodes of Richard’s life story, along with lots more of his excellent articles and stories, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/western_walkabout/


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