Getting fit together

Team sports are a great way to keep fit and enhance your social life.

Louise Vincent, NUM at the orthopaedic unit at Gosford Hospital, has been playing hockey since high school. She’s now 50.

‘It was one of the sports offered in my first year in high school so I took it up and haven’t stopped playing since,’ she told The Lamp. ‘I enjoy being part of a team – it’s competitive as well as being fun. I’ve made a lot of long-term friendships through the game and it gives me a reason to keep fit. As well as regular exercise, hockey involves both upper and lower limb muscle groups as well as hand-eye co-ordination.’

For Louise, a team sport like hockey is more appealing than going to the gym. ‘Being a team sport there’s more incentive to maintain fitness so as not to let the rest of the team down,’ she said. ‘There’s also a great social side to the game as well.’

Outdoor training for Louise and her team takes place every Saturday with one session during the week indoors. ‘Indoors is a bit more social so we don’t train till State Championships are around in February,’ she said. ‘Indoor is held in the off season to keep fitness levels up for the main winter competition.’

Talking of competitions, Louise has been on the winning team many times over the past few decades. ‘I have represented the Central Coast at the Veterans State Championships since I was 35. There’s been a fairly consistent group in the same team for a lot of those years and we’ve won more finals than we’ve lost.’

When asked what her proudest moment in hockey has been, she said: ‘A couple of years ago I stood in as goalkeeper in our Div 1 team – I normally play on the field – for two years running and both years we went through and won the grand final. Also, playing in the World Gay Games in Sydney in 2002. There was still the leftover vibe from the 2000 Olympics and the hockey matches, along with a lot of other sports, were held at the Olympic venue. It was fantastic.’

In addition to hockey, Louise also walks whenever she can and takes the stairs, rather than the lift at work. She is of the firm belief that keeping fit is important.

‘I’ve always enjoyed sport and believe life is more enjoyable when you’re fit and healthy. It helps me in my work as a nurse because it makes the workload easier to manage and helps you mentally as well. I’m a NUM so I work Monday to Friday now, but when I used to do night duty I’d feel very energetic the morning after the shift and I’d usually run home from work, then collapse and go to sleep. Being fit helps you wind down and get over the shift.’

And while Louise has been playing sport all her life, she says it’s never too late to start, no matter what age you are or what level of fitness you are at. ‘Take it slowly and you won’t regret the benefits it brings to both your working life and social life,’ she advises. ‘It helps you cope with the ageing process and allows you to be more motivated to participate in other activities. There’s a great feeling of camaraderie in a team sport.’

Enter the dragon

In 2006, Carol Taylor, a CNC at RPA Hospital, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Shortly after having her lymph nodes removed, she took up dragonboat racing.

‘I found out that if you took up some form of exercise, such as dragon boating, it will help reduce lymphedema if you use the muscles,’ she told The Lamp.

Carol is part of a national organisation called Dragons Abreast Australia, which is comprised of breast cancer survivors and their supporters. Dragons Abreast teams from across the country meet to compete against each other, increase their fitness – and have fun.

According to Dragons Abreast, dragonboat racing is an aquatic sport in which a 12m-long, canoe-like boat, wide enough to sit 20 people, two abreast, along with a sweep to steer the boat and a drummer, is paddled over a course of approximately 500m in length. During races a dragonboat will feature the head and tail of a dragon, a mythological creature regarded by the Chinese as having dominion over the waters and exercising control over rainfall.

Carol is part of the Sydney team of Dragons Abreast, which has over 100 members, including supporters such as a husband or close friend. They train at Black Wattle Bay three times a week, including Saturday mornings – and are a very mixed bunch.

‘We’ve got people in our team ranging from the young, who’ve just been diagnosed, those who are in the middle of chemo with no hair, to people who are 76,’ she said. ‘Some like the sport so much they have continued on with it after surviving breast cancer.’

Because of the large numbers in the team, members are divided into streams. Carol is in the ‘serious’ division. ‘Some people like me who want more and paddle hard are now in what’s known as “the squad”‘.

And the social benefits to a team sport are as important as the fitness aspect. ‘We have a lot of social networking, so if someone is feeling down there’s a network to connect with,’ said Carol. ‘Once we’ve finished paddling on Saturdays we go out for coffee, chat, we have dinners, plus there’s a theatre group and a craft group. It’s much bigger than just the sport.’

While Carol started dragonboat racing as a way to keep her body fit and strong, her competitive spirit was sparked, so much so that she tried out for and succeeded in securing a spot in the NSW State dragonboat racing team.

‘I’m crazy, I want more!’ she laughed. ‘I love the challenge, it keeps me fitter and gets me out more.’

Once Carol got a taste for winning there was no holding her back. ‘We went to Queensland, for a State versus State competition. We were in the lead, but the person at the back, who is the sweep, lost it. Luckily they let us paddle in a heat again and we came second. Then in the finals we won giving us the Australian title,’ she recalled.

Carol’s latest bid is to win a place on the National team, the Auroras, and to this end she’s training hard. ‘I have a gym at home – I’ve got a cross-trainer, a rowing machine, treadmill and a bike. They are taking on the best people from each State for a competition that will be held in Tampa, Florida in 2011.’

But you don’t have to take an all-out approach to dragonboat racing to reap the fitness benefits. ‘It helps me in my work as a nurse, as doing exercise releases a lot of frustration,’ said Carol. ‘I encourage people to get motivated. Everyone has family commitments and there’s always something going on in your life, but once you start exercise and get the adrenalin going it’s wonderful.’