Indoor bowls is the panacea

Joan Dunn playing her shot watched by Ron Briggs. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

Ron Briggs has a lot in common with the Toyotas he peddled at an Auckland caryard for 40 years. Both Ron and the Toyotas just keep going.

Being 76 years old and well-maintained, Ron, in car terms, is of medium to upper mileage but still has a lot of trouble-free, quality motoring before the inevitable scrapyard.

“The problem my wife Francis and I had, when we both stopped work at 71, was we had to learn to live together again.” And they also had to find something to do to fill the void left by work.

“We were never club people. No time – just 10 to 12 hours a day working. Up at 5.30am and disappearing in different directions.”

Now they get up a bit later and head off in the same direction. To indoor bowls at the Tauranga Senior Citizens Club in Norris St.

They insist it’s non-competitive. “Friendliest club in the world,” insists Joan Dunne, 94 in June and an indoor bowler since she was 35.

But there’s yelling, squealing, cheering, hooting and laughter, lots of laughter and banter. “That was a tin-arsed shot,” said one wag dismissing a delicately-executed forehand that laid up right on the jack.

Ron resisted all the entreaties from another Ron to join the Senior Citizens – president Ron Harris. “Good guy, smart guy, runs a good club. But I didn’t think I would be any good at bowls, not my thing.”

In March Ron and his Frances buckled. “We should have been coming to indoor bowls three or four years ago, when we arrived in Tauranga.”

It’s not just about sport and exercise – it’s also about dealing with three of the major menaces confronting people as they age, loneliness, boredom and helplessness. Indoor bowling at the Tauranga Senior Citizens Club is just the medicine, according to Joan.

“Indoor bowling is crucial to my wellbeing,” says Joan, aged 93 and a little creaky with arthritis. She lives independently with her family. “If I didn’t have the club I would be wondering what to do and you need to get out and meet and mix with people.” She uses a leaner to get up and down from the bowling mat.

“As you get older, all you do is look forward to club bowls day, and enjoying some friendly like-minded people. Twice, perhaps three times a week.” The Tauranga Senior Citizens Club is her other family. “It’s marvelous.”

Marvelous, but looking for members. There are 170 people on its books. The club’s healthy but it could do with more members. The membership threshold is 55, but the youngest member is 67. Why isn’t the club pulling new members from 55?

President Ron Harris ponders that one. He and the club are on a membership drive. “It’s not as though we are struggling, even though some other seniors clubs are.” But he agrees it could have something to do with people not liking to think of themselves as ‘senior’.

And he points to a smorgasbord of activities at the club – not just indoor bowls, 500 and bridge.

“Sequence dancing, that may be too old as well; body and soul workout groups which is exercise to music, night rock and rock, a paranormal group and a UFO group come as well. There’s Sanctity of Grace on Sunday and a spiritual church on Sunday evenings. So lots of options, lots of opportunities.”

And the ‘recycled teenagers groups on Monday and Wednesday mornings’ – low impact aerobics and weight bearing exercises.

A senior citizens club should flourish in a city widely regarded as the retirement capital of New Zealand but it finds itself unintentionally competing with retirement villages which have similar activities. Take Ron Briggs. He lives in a private estate called 12 Acre Wood off Pyes Pa, which has a pool, tennis court, library, petanque and many other facilities. It’s all on-site like many of the retirement villages. But the once-reluctant senior citizen now spends his time drumming up new memberships for the Tauranga Senior Citizens Club. “I was delightfully wrong about the Senior Citizens Club, glad to be wrong. I love the club, love the people and love indoor bowls.”

“It’s a wonderful fellowship at the Tauranga Senior Citizens Club,” says Joan. “People used to call it a day at 80 and now we are living well past that – 90 and 100.

“The oldest member is 102. We can only go on for so long. And while you leave, when you are ready to leave, this is a wonderful club and place to enjoy life and people.”

That’s 40 years of Tauranga Senior Citizens Club experience talking. For more information email: phone the club on 578 7534 or drop by the club at 15 Norris St behind Pak’n Save in Cameron Rd.

“Don’t know how to play indoor bowls?” asks vice-president Graham Ward. “Well, we will teach you. “You will be hooked.”

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