Need2Know: Near 30 groups now in Tauranga’s “City on its Feet”.
Before the year is out, Mike Mellelieu would have celebrated his 87th birthday – but you wouldn’t know it. The former marathon runner walks with the pace of a man more than half his age. He doesn’t let his replacement knee joint slow him down and, in fact, just a few years after having the bionic part placed in his body the surgeon confirmed he could indeed start running again.
“I’ve found my walking is quicker than my running these days,” Mike remarks. “When you get past 80, the brain says you want to run… but my body says, ‘Don’t be stupid!’”
Once a week Mike leads a walking group as part of City on its Feet, a Sport Bay of Plenty initiative which is supported by Tauranga City Council to help more people enjoy walking more often.
There are nearly 30 other City on its Feet groups across the city and Mike’s Wednesday one-hour jaunt around Welcome Bay, Tauranga, is one of three groups he ‘Captains’.
Captains are volunteers who organise and lead the walking groups, providing a point of contact and a source of motivation and support.
Mike co-leads his Wednesday and Friday groups with fellow Captain Wyn Mudgway, and it is very much a collaborative affair, with attendees also having their say as to where they will walk each week.
“We do an ‘away’ trip once a month, to make it more interesting – next week, we’re off to McLaren Falls Park. I try to involve the walkers instead of dictating what we are doing, so other people get to organise a walk. There is a wee schedule for the year so people can plan in advance.”
Today, the “Hammond Street route” has been selected, a 5km journey that starts and finishes at the local Palmers Garden Centre (because it is the only café in the area, Mike informs me) and includes a considerable section off road around the estuary and up some hills.
Usually we’d do the off-road section first to avoid traffic and fumes, says Mike, but one of the attendees lives on the route so will be ‘dropped off’ on the way past.
On the dot of 9am, the 15-something walkers depart Palmers – not a minute earlier, or sometimes participating walkers get a bit miffed that the group has started without them.
Starting as they mean to go on, the group breaks into two distinct packs, with the fast-paced walkers leading the charge and the more casual strollers picking up the rear. Mike and I hold fort in the middle, with me (29 years old) embarrassed at my increased huffing and puffing as I try to keep up with these fit older adults.
Mike has been running this group “for years” following the end of his “obsession” with running.
Never one to let age dictate what he can and can’t do, he was “a bit late in life” when it came to running, picking it up in his fifties as a way to stay fit for squash.
Just 11 months after his first-ever run, Mike was one of 4000 runners taking part in the 25th anniversary of the Rotorua Marathon, finishing around four hours. By 64 years old, he had completed a 104km duathlon.
But overtraining took its toll – what he calls “divorce level training… nearly” – and running came to an end after the surgery on his knee.
Not content to sit still, Mike wanted to keep up the fitness so turned to walking. Up until a few months ago, he was still climbing to the top of Mauao, so it is no surprise he navigates the city’s streets with ease.
It’s not just about the walking through, he says, with the social aspect a huge part of why he loves to walk.
“We’ve made a good group of
friends. You find the coffee is more important than the walk. We have become absolute experts on who does the best coffee for the best price.”
He takes the coffee seriously. A 10-minute conversation ensues on local cafes who have created the best deals specifically for the walking groups – including one bar and restaurant which has started baking fresh muffins each morning for Mike and Wyn’s Friday walking group.
“But they were charging us $5 for a coffee and muffin, which I felt was too cheap, so I told them they should change it.”
Coffee isn’t the only topic of conversation as we wander through the suburban streets, down towards the estuary and along through the flora and fauna. Mike regales me of tales of his running days and of his son and daughter-in-law overseas (who they are visiting later this year in the UK), peppered with comments on the changing landscape of the area and Tauranga’s traffic woes.
It’s a friendly, welcoming environment and as we walk you can see groups within the walking group chatting as they stride along at pace. It’s clear the company keeps participants coming back just as much as the scenery and the fitness.
“I’ve been coming three years,” says one participant. “I hadn’t been in the area long and my daughter said, ‘You need to get involved in things Mum’. She saw the pamphlet at the library and so I came and gave it a go. Been here ever since!”
“I’ve been coming two months,” says another, “and have lost a fair bit of belly weight from the group – I’m down to 100kg. I hadn’t done the Mount climb in about six years but I think I could make it now!”
“We take all sorts,” says Mike. So what does he believe is one of the key benefits of a walking group?
“I think you see a lot of streets you wouldn’t normally see if you weren’t with a group, places you wouldn’t normally have a reason to go to, so if you are new to the area it’s Opposite page: The walk ends at a cafe. Above photos: There are 27 kilomatres of walkways around Tauranaga to explore. very helpful.”
And, if you’re with Mike, you’re likely to discover a new coffee spot – or two – in the process.
For more information about City on its Feet, as well as a full timetable of walking groups, visit www.sportbop. co.nz/get-active/city-on-its-feet/
City on its Feet is looking for keen Captains, like Mike, to help lead existing groups in Te Puke and Mount Maunganui, as well as start new groups in the Tauranga area.
If you, or someone you know, would like to become a Group Captain for the Te Puke or Mount Maunganui walking groups, please contact Michelle on [email protected]bop.co.nz or 027 441 2164.