A fitness habit that Rita Powell started in her 40s also helped her to recover from a life-changing brain bleed five years ago which left her unconscious for two months and missing her 80th birthday.
“The doctors said that being so fit and well is what got me through,” she says.
Now 85, Rita says deciding to take control of her life and get fit 40 years ago had made all the difference to her life today, and she certainly didn’t do it by halves, with 24 full marathons and more than 200 half-marathons notched up!
“I always do things 100 per cent!” she laughs.
“Before that, I smoked and I was overweight and unfit so I joined the YMCA and would get up at 5am to go to the gym and go for a walk.”
Since moving into Linda Jones Retirement Village with partner David last year, Rita has continued with her dedication to fitness to also help her regain full mobility after a hip replacement 12 years ago, and regularly attends Ryman’s inhouse Triple A exercise classes.
When she saw Ryman’s Walking for Wellness challenge advertised, she signed up straightaway.
The aim of the challenge is to encourage residents to commit to regular walking, with several months of training over winter before taking part in a virtual 60km walk of Abel Tasman National Park during the month of October, using the Virtual Mission app.
“I love walking and I go for a walk every day. Sometimes several times a day.
“I liked the mental stimulation that following the app provides and I’ve got my fitness tracker so I can measure how many kilometres I’ve walked.”
Rita makes the most of having Featherstone Park right next door to the village, and (top pic) with her vast haul of marathon medals.
It has also provided a new way to get to know more residents in the village, with fitness and friendship always going hand in hand for Rita.
“This village is beautiful and the gardens are kept immaculate so I walk all around.
“I’ll often go on my own as well but there are two ladies who live next door to me so we often meet up and go for a walk, which is better.
“That’s what it’s all about – the friendship and companionship. For years, every weekend my friends and I were away doing this sort of thing.”
She adds: “I travelled all over doing marathons – I did the New York marathon in 2002 and the Great Wall marathon in 2006, then closer to home there was the Gold Coast and I’ve done the Rotorua marathon 14 times.”
After moving out to New Zealand in 1967 from Coventry in the UK, Rita opened what she believes was the first unisex hair salon in Hamilton, if not New Zealand, calling it Lord and Lady Hair Styles.
(Above) Rally driver Rita outside her Hamilton hair salon and (below) completing the New York marathon in 2002.
Life was busy with three children, and also fitting in an active interest in rally driving, co-driving with her second husband Bruce.
She believes anyone can make time to exercise, no matter how busy, and the pay-off can be life-saving!
Rita has written a book detailing all of her adventures with lots of photos of her travels and races and she has kept her huge haul of medals from all the competitions as reminders of all the fun times - and to show her seven grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.
While she has no memory of marking her 80th birthday, due to being unconscious in her hospital bed on that day, she recently celebrated an exciting achievement inspired from that time, completing the 4km walk around Hamilton Lake which was the view she could see from her room in Waikato Hospital.
“As a member of the Hamilton Marathon Clinic we would often use the lake to walk or run around so it’s a very special place for me.
“When I finally walked all around the lake it was a real thrill to achieve that milestone. I looked up at the hospital and yelled out ‘I’ve done it, I’ve done it!’”
Now she can add the Walking 4 Wellness challenge to her list of achievements, completing the challenge just 15 days after it started.
Rita proudly displays her Mission Complete certificate from the Walking for Wellness challenge.