Nobody in the country escaped a break to their normal routine when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold during the spring of 2020.
David Stevenson’s normal routine included trips to Wath Leisure Centre most weekdays to keep active and sustain a lifestyle change he and his wife, Michele, had implemented five years ago, having set themselves a goal of losing weight before a friend’s wedding.
They achieved their goal, and had kept up with the healthier lifestyle they had made for themselves. But with gyms among the many things forced to close last March, that routine was no more. David, now 62, was a former cross country runner for South Yorkshire during his teens, and he decided to lace up his trainers once more and hit the roads to try and keep active. But he found himself out of breath quickly and didn’t maintain his return to the sport he enjoyed as a teenager.
That was until Michele saw a post on Facebook for a new walk-to-run group starting at Manvers Lake, led by Jerry and Sally, two of the Active Dearne Community Champions.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” admits David, “but Jerry was very structured in how he planned the sessions. He was also very nurturing and as week-by-week progressed, my enthusiasm began to run away with itself.
“I’d not done any proper running since I was about 16. You leave school, go to college and get a job, try to balance things off and I just didn’t have the time to do it anymore. Now, at the age of 62, I was questioning whether I could do anything over any period of time because we’d not done any serious exercise for about 15 months.
“When restrictions were beginning to be lifted we didn’t feel comfortable about going back to the gym. We realised it wasn’t going to work for us. We started looking around, contacted Sally and we were interested in doing a number of activities.
“We met Jerry in the first week and he was very personable. He was clear about what the aims were but he put no pressure on any of us. We then completed the 5k and to be honest, we didn’t struggle. Because we built up to it, it wasn’t as difficult as I expected it to be. Jerry was very encouraging while we were running, he’s given us some really enthusiastic back-up from the moment we started to the moment we finished.”
David has formed a friendship with Alan, another of those who joined the group, and the pair plan to give something back by offering support to the next group who start the walk to run sessions.
“We’re really keen to promote this activity for others because we know what benefits it has brought to us. In terms of my emotional wellbeing, it couldn’t have come at a better time. From a physical perspective, it gradually got me back into exercise. I wasn’t sitting on the couch all the time, but I wasn’t exercising in the same way I had been before.
“I know I’ve lost weight since I started it, and I’ve been supplementing that by doing the walking football run by Adam, as well. That has been the catalyst for me to re-join the gym. I’m going there up to three days a week, taking part in the walking football, the running, and I’m walking the dog two or three times a day.
“From an activity perspective I’m extremely engaged with a good routine that is helping me. My cardiovascular capacity has improved massively with the running. The first time I did it, I was gasping for breath after running for one minute. Now, we’re running for 30 minutes and I’m blowing a little bit, but it’s not too bad.”
David and Michelle’s apprehension about returning to the gym is something echoed as one of the main insights from Sport England’s report into understanding the impact of Covid-19 on physical activity.
The report suggests those aged 55 and over are the most anxious about returning to activities they did before the pandemic. However, like David, two-fifths of adults have found new ways to be active, and 84% of those people intend to continue those activities as restrictions ease.
“The impact of the pandemic was that all the effort we’d put in to lose weight and get fit had been taken away from us. When we were aware of all the activities taking place and we weren’t confident enough to go back to the gym, we thought this is a way of just testing out where we’re at with fitness levels.
“I’m now not struggling at all with any form of exercise and I’d probably say I’m back at the level I was before when I was going to the gym on a regular basis.
“I think the reality is that it’s made me realise that age is not a barrier to exercise. I remember having conversations with my grandad and asking him what it’s like to be old. He’d point to his head and say, “I’m not old in here.”
“We should not be afraid of pushing the boundaries when in the past we may have been worried to do so. It has made me realise I can’t run as quickly as I was when I was 16, but I can still run. And with people around me, I’ve exceeded what I thought I would achieve.
“If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything. It’s not easy to start with, but we gradually built up to the point where we ran for 30 minutes. We achieved the objective, which was to get our backsides off the couch and run 5k.
“It’s been like meeting up with your mates. Ultimately, Alan and I have just got on really well. When we’ve finished the running and we’re walking back, we’ll be having a general chinwag about things. Having a run with Jerry is like having a run with your mate.
“We’d reminisce about Steve Cram and Seb Coe, and we told Jerry that if he was a character in Toy Story, he’d be Buzz Lightyear. It’s like to infinity and beyond with the walk to run group!”