Walkie-talkies celebrate 20 years

Gillian Bartram explains the route to the Flagstaff walkers

Flagstaff’s happy chatterers have been striding it out together three times a week for coming up 20 years. In the spirit of the group, where fun and friendship rate as highly as fitness, the Flagstaff walking group will gather for a 20th birthday bash in September.

Two decades ago the Hilary Commission established a number of walking groups around Hamilton. The Flagstaff group is one of the few that is still going.

Much of the group’s success can be attributed to Gillian Bartram who leads the group. She took up the role about a year after the Flagstaff Walkers began. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she sets the group off on a fresh one-hour route – and ensures that plans are firmly in place for the regular Friday coffee-stop.

The group has continued to grow in numbers, with up to thirty men and women stepping it out together these days.

“It’s a happy group. People settle into their stride with others who go at a similar speed,” says Gillian. John de Jong, who is about 90 years-old, often sets a punishing pace for the faster walkers. Those who wish to take it more slowly fall in with like-minded walkers.

The fact that regular attendees have no trouble going beyond the recommended target of 150 minutes exercise each week seems almost incidental. Clearly, the health benefits of regular attendance at the walking group go way beyond pushing the heart rate up a few times a week.

When the group was small, they would go to Morrinsville or Raglan for the day or to Waiheke Island for the sculpture exhibition.

“On those trips we walked – but we did a lot of eating and chatting, too” said Gillian.

Norma Kerr, who joined the group 18 years ago, said “Lots of lovely people turn out. It’s very sociable. As you continue with the group, the other walkers begin to mean more and more to you. We chatter non-stop.”

Gillian makes sure newcomers are warmly welcomed and paired up with buddies until they feel part of the group.

Details about the group are available on the Sport Waikato website – http://www.sportwaikato.org.nz/directory/walking-group- flagstaff.aspx