From Hiking in the Himalayas to Taking a Few Steps With a Crutch

“I was 13 when Edmund Hillary came to speak at my high-school. He described the Himalayas and talked about his experiences, and I wondered if I’d ever manage to get there.” Sir Edmund started a dream for Catherine, and she’s been there 16 times since then. Catherine has trekked through 53 other countries, but her favourite place outside of New Zealand is Nepal. The Himalayas are her second home. She can reveal the best place to view Mount Everest (it’s not the base camp), and which editions of the Lonely Planet have the best trekking guides; she can tell you about the lepers on the streets of Kathmandu, and the beautiful flowering rhododendrons on the mountainsides.

Three years ago, Catherine suffered a massive stroke which left her unable to walk without support. Life would never be the same again.

Two months in hospital and countless hours of physiotherapy helped Catherine regain some mobility, but she will never really walk alone anymore. She has lost the function of most of her left side.

Catherine’s medical background probably helped her make quick choices to enable her to live as independently as possible despite this new reality. Almost as soon as she left hospital, she sold her house in Johnsonville and bought a smaller one-level home in Tawa. Conveniently located near the shops, Catherine thought she’d be able to walk there soon enough. Sadly, her recovery plateaued somewhere along the way. Catherine simply can’t walk alone outside her home. Inside, she manages a few steps with the help of a crutch.

Catherine was widowed nine years ago. Her son lives nearby and brings meals to her regularly. Her two other ‘adopted’ sons live in Nepal. At 81-years-old, Catherine longs to go back to Nepal one last time, but she doubts if that will happen now.

Catherine is well dressed and quite tall. She looks younger than her age, and she has smiling eyes. Her clothes are tasteful and reminiscent of India. Her home is decorated with treasures from her travels. Glimpses of Korea, Afghanistan, Dubai, and of course Nepal appear around her living room.

Life had slowed to a crawl when a friend of a friend mentioned a Steady as You Go exercise class to Catherine. “You should come along,” he said, and Catherine did.

“After walking 10 to 12 kilometres a day for most of my life, I can manage these low-impact classes without too much trouble, even now,” Catherine says. These exercise classes are designed by Age Concern to help improve balance and prevent falls. Shortly after the stroke, falls were an issue for her, but not so much anymore. Another exercise class participant lives down the road and picks up Catherine on the way.

About once a month, Age Concern Wellington Region puts on a ‘Pop-up Hub for Seniors’ after the exercise class. At one of the hubs, Catherine met some of the Age Concern staff and was introduced to the Companion Walking and Accredited Visitor Services. Volunteer Jo goes for a weekly walk with Catherine, and volunteer Myra visits Catherine at home for a weekly chat and cup of tea. “They’re such different people, but that’s good. That’s what makes them interesting,” Catherine says. Jo enjoys trekking and has also been to the Himalayas, which makes her an ideal walking companion for Catherine.

“These two girls make a big difference in my life. I couldn’t do without them. They’re wonderful people,” Catherine says with a smile. After her stroke, Catherine’s new reality was a difficult adjustment, but Jo and Myra have made a significant positive difference in her life and she is extremely thankful to know them.

If you or someone you know might benefit from Age Concern’s services, please call 04 499 6648 for more information.

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