Need2Know: Near 30 groups now in Tau­ranga’s “City on its Feet”.

Walking New Zealand - - Contents - By Laura Bouche

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, visit­bop.­tive/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]­ or 027 441 2164.

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