24 April 2024

Margaret defies doctor's prognosis to stay standing on her own two feet - sometimes only on one

| Michele Tydd
Start the conversation
Woman doing tai chi under a tree.

Margaret Dean practises her tai chi moves. Photo: Michele Tydd.

A chilling medical diagnosis was just the medicine for Dapto’s Margaret Dean to take action that would change the course of her life.

“I was about 50 and I’d just moved to the Illawarra from Canberra when a doctor told me my rheumatoid and bone arthritis were so bad I’d be in a wheelchair by the time I was 53,” says Margaret, who is now 83.

“I got so mad I walked out of the surgery, determined to ensure that wouldn’t happen.

“I decided to try gentle exercise to relieve my pain and because I had always loved David Caradine’s martial arts movies, I bought one of his tai chi videos and slowly learned a range of moves.”

Daily one-hour sessions of the exercise regime soon started to ease her pain and restore flexibility to a point where she became interested in teaching classes.

READ ALSO Wollongong cancer charity golf day honours Peter Newell, a man way above par

“It teaches you how to move, sit and stand while gently strengthening every muscle in your body,” says Margaret.

“When I was 53 – the time I was supposed to be in a wheelchair – I was in Sydney getting my accreditation to teach,” she adds with a deserved tone of satisfaction.

Margaret teaches four days a week at three locations: Dapto’s Ribbonwood Community Centre, the Uniting Elanora Shellharbour Aged Care Centre and The Watershed, a drug and alcohol recovery centre at Berkeley.

“Some of the older people in my classes have various physical ailments so I tailor the exercises so they can be adapted to ensure everybody gets a good workout,” says Margaret.

“I’ve had some lovely people in my classes over the years.

“One lady who has been coming to my Ribbonwood classes for over a decade gets dropped off by her daughter and comes in on her walker, does the class and then goes off for coffee.

“For many like her it’s a routine that maintains their mobility.”

READ ALSO Christine battled loneliness after her daughter died – but thanks to volunteers, she has moments to look forward to

Over the years, Margaret has made several trips to China to acquire a deeper understanding of the tai chi tradition.

“You see the elderly out in parks and various spaces moving through their routines with ease,” she says.

But it has many more benefits than improving flexibility, says Margaret.

“I noticed a few people on walkers at Elanora nursing home dragging their feet so we worked on that and in a short time there was an improvement in their gait,” she says.

Margaret is an extraordinary example of a trend in Australia over the past 15 years of people choosing to work beyond retirement.

The number of males over 65 who remained in the workforce grew from 15 per cent in 2010 to 19 per cent in 2021, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

READ ALSO Salvos appeal for Illawarra volunteers to help raise funds for struggling Aussies

Over the same timeframe, females still working beyond 65 jumped from 6.9 per cent to 11.1 per cent.

Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2021 recorded slightly more than 301,000 people over 65 were employed full-time, and 317,000 were employed part-time.

Reasons for this increase vary – some people miss the mental stimulation they had while working and for others it is a financial necessity.

For Margaret, it is a bit of both.

“It’s a way to make ends meet and it’s great for mental capacity,” she says. “I’ve got 200 moves in my head, so it’s kept my faculties sharp.”

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Illawarra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Illawarra stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.