Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness boasts on its ability to provide something for everyone. From adolescent to adult or novice to elite athlete — you are guaranteed to find what you’re looking for here. While all group fitness classes are much loved by our members, there is one which has formed a tight-knit community over the years — the Senior Wellness Program.
It is impossible to tell the story of the Seniors Program without mentioning John Dowse – more commonly known as “Sparrow”. After being given a personal training certification course for his 70th birthday, combining his experience as an ex-Wallaby and love for fitness, the Seniors Wellness Program was born. Fast forward 17 years, Sparrow is now accompanied by a handful of professional instructors, four classes every week and rising participation numbers.
While the program is specifically aimed for people over 55 years of age, there is nothing limiting about this group of individuals. Some train six days a week, others squeeze back-to-back sessions in one day and throughout COVID didn’t let complacency get in the way.
Most explored new ways to move their body without access to a gym. One thing that this program demonstrates well is the power of belonging. When people feel a sense of belonging to a greater community it improves their motivation, health and happiness. This is echoed by the countless testimonials of those who have experienced the classes and group dynamic first-hand. While most of us rush out of the building after a workout, our Senior members often gather at Poolside Cafe to enjoy a coffee and yarn. It is here where friendships are made.
Sera Naiqama meets members Ros, Jim and Lynda to find out what they value most about the Seniors Wellness Program.
ICEBREAKER: WHAT IS YOUR ABSOLUTE DREAM JOB?
My actual job was my dream job. I started out as a GP in Sydney but finished my career as a doctor working in rural Northern Territory. I spent 22 years doing what I loved. It was hard to leave.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TRAINING AT SUSF?
It has been 10 years since I returned from the north so ever since then. I have however always felt connected as an alumni of the University of Sydney.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT THE SENIORS PROGRAM?
It’s two-fold for me. One it allows me to keep strong and two the community SUSF offers. It’s so diverse and the people you meet are so interesting.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT IN THE GYM, WHERE CAN WE FIND YOU?
I love the environment so to be hands-on in the community I joined the Australian Conversation Foundation. I recently co-founded a group in the inner-west region.
My role now is very administration-focused but the next stage is getting businesses and Local Members of Parliament involved so I look forward to that.
ICEBREAKER: WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SEASON AND WHY?
Spring because it’s ski season and I love being out in the snow.
HOW DO YOU BENEFIT FROM WORKING OUT AT SUSF?
There are several benefits. Training here helps me keep fit, the classes are led by knowledgeable instructors and the stretches I learn in class are transferrable to my skiing. I particularly enjoy the Postural Fitness classes because they encourage me to maintain good posture as I age. I see the results of this in my day-to-day life.
WHAT IS THE MOST VALUABLE THING ABOUT BEING A MEMBER AT SUSF?
The well supported gym, pool and programs. The social aspect is also great. On Wednesday between my two classes I have a 30 minute break. Often you’ll find a group of us gathered around Poolside Cafe.
DID YOU CONTINUE EXERCISING DURING COVID?
Yes, I tuned in online to participate in weekly Zoom sessions. The instructor was great!
WHAT ARE YOUR INTERESTS OUTSIDE THE GYM?
Off the slopes I am interested in philosophy and anthropology. I’ve recently set up a discussion group that respectfully talks about anything currently happening in the world.
ICEBREAKER: WHAT IS YOUR GOTO BREAKFAST CHOICE?
Muesli, fruit and tea.
EVERYONE RAVES ABOUT SPARROW. WHAT IS IT ABOUT HIM?
We love the idea that a man in his mid-80’s models an active lifestyle. People are drawn to Sparrow because he gives us all kinds of support and is always enthusiastic. Sometimes we get in trouble because we chat a little bit too much in class but it’s all with good intent.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE CLASS AND WHY?
Stretch class and because of what it does for my body. I had a hip replacement so the movements we go through really help.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO GET OUT OF BED AND TO CLASS?
Well, I love being here. The people I meet and the instructors are amazing. I admire them for how focused they are on people my age.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE CONSIDERING CHECKING OUT THE SENIORS PROGRAM?
Get involved. SUSF is a lovely place to be and we are surrounded by such a beautiful campus. The combination of atmosphere and the people you meet makes it a place like no other.