20 Sep 23 - Resident stories

Forever fit

Ask Doris Ratcliffe what her secret is for a long and healthy life, and she will reply, “Keep moving!”

Doris should know, for as she approaches the formidable age of 105 she remains flexible enough to touch her toes, and continues to assist in the daily exercise class held at the care centre at Summerset down the Lane, where she lives.

“It is a popular class. There are about 20 of us who come,” says Doris. “We have it every day at 10:30am after morning tea.” The class is a form of chair-based fitness, especially suitable for those in wheelchairs or who might be unsteady on their feet. “It is about 45 minutes long. I assist the kaitiaki and the diversional therapists, and stand in to run the class if needed. By demonstrating the moves, I think it encourages the others to have a go.”

The exercise programme focuses on the upper body and the legs, and uses aids such as medicine balls and spiky massage balls. “We do all sorts – leg lifts, ham string stretches, heel to toe taps, hip flexor exercises,” says Doris, demonstrating. “We do between 5 to 10 reps of each. I don’t push, I just say, ‘Try it, and do what you can.’”

Doris has lived at the Hamilton village since 2019. “When I turned 100 I was told by the health people in my area that I was too old to live on my own! I looked at a few places but I really liked Summerset. I chose my room to be near the lift. Not so that I can take it but so that I can be sociable with other people who live here as they head to or from it.”

Cheerful and quick to laugh, Doris thinks seeing the funny side of life helps her longevity. “A sense of humour, an active body if you are able, and an active mind,” she recommends.

It was Doris’s active mind that saw her, as a young woman growing up in England’s Sheffield, recruited by the Ministry of Defence in World War II and winning an award for her service. “I worked in the AID – the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate. I was sent to lead a factory that made the shell of Lancaster bombers. I knew about wiring – well, what positive, negative and earth was – and so I inspected the wiring for the pilots and the gunners.” She laughs again. “That wouldn’t be something that you’d want to get wrong!”

Mementos of that time in her life decorate her room, with miniature Lancaster bombers featuring heavily. “Funnily enough, I had met my husband, Edward, before the war. He was from Lancashire, and he was in the air force! It was appropriate that was my wartime role!”

The pair, along with their daughter, embarked on a maritime adventure in 1967, taking passage on an Italian ship and eventually washing up on New Zealand’s shores. They settled first in Palmerston North and then relocated several times around the country and back to the UK before eventually calling Hamilton home.

“We liked to travel and explore. I had a few jobs. A particularly interesting one was when I worked for the Ministry of Māori Affairs in the 1980s. At the time the voice for Māori rights was gaining momentum.”

Before she moved into the village, Doris was active with Age Concern, who have awarded her a certificate of appreciation for her involvement. Now she relishes attending weekly outings with Summerset friends and staff. “It’s great. We get to go off in the van and explore the country. I get my nails done every Friday too. We only have so long to live – let’s enjoy it!”

This is an article from the Winter 2023 edition of Summerset Scene magazine

Click here to read the full issue