Fitness, friends and fun for all

EASY AS: Vera Blackman leads from the front.
BEN CAMPBELL/Papakura Courier
EASY AS: Vera Blackman leads from the front.

Vera Blackman knows next to nought about rock-and-rollers like the Eagles, the Venga Boys, Dr Hook, Credence Clearwater Revival, the Village People, Shania Twain or reggae king Bob Marley.

Yet this 90-year-old widow works out to their music every Tuesday and Thursday at the Papakura Recreation Centre.

She enjoys it so much she has rarely missed a beat in the four years she has been part of the 50s Forward programme.

"I read about it in the Courier," she says.

"I was lonely and feeling isolated. I thought by joining I’d be able to keep fit, meet people and make new friends."

Mrs Blackman reckons she has blossomed in her new environment.

She is as fit as can be, has made lots of friends, is never short of someone to chat to on the phone and loves the tours the group goes on.

She is one of nearly a dozen widows who are part of the programme that was initially just a keep-fit exercise.

It has since grown into a tight-knit community of friends who have regular day trips and an annual Christmas party.

Liz Christensen, 80, and Diana Lovett, 80, were among the founding members and are still there today.

They were among the 10 originals who started the programme in 1995.

Today 60 people join in on Tuesdays and 40 on Thursdays. Most are women but there’s a handful of men.

The fitness classes are designed specifically for people aged 50 and over.

Instructor Christine Mercer has them doing low-impact aerobics, line circuits, line dancing, square dancing, marching, singing, t’ai chi, step aerobics and weight training.

Ms Mercer has been taking classes for 11 years and she’s as enthusiastic as her charges.

"People start arriving for class up to half an hour beforehand which gives them time for a chat with their friends.

"The carpark is always full to bursting when classes are on."

She says one woman comes from Kaiaua, another couple come from Papatoetoe and one catches the bus from Manurewa.

Recently a group of women from Papakura marae have joined. Some have weight issues while others have diabetes. They too have become hooked since joining up.

"When I saw them I said to myself: ‘Well if they can do this why can’t I’?" says Ria Te Hei, 36.

"It’s been fun. You don’t get put off or feel intimidated. Someone jokingly said to me the other day that I was too young and that the programme was for people over 50.

"I love the way people here don’t judge you," she says.

At 17, Lucy Tavita is the youngest. She says she was dragged along by her sister-in-law.

"I’ve been coming back since. It’s great. It makes me sweat and I really feel good after."

Phone 298-6852.

Papakura Courier