The south-east Melbourne suburb of Brighton is famous for Shane Warne, its colourful bathing boxes and the Middle Brighton Sea Baths. First constructed in 1881, the baths are one of the only remaining caged open-water sea baths in Australia.
Every morning you’ll see committed swimmers splashing through a few laps. And in the dead of winter, you’ll find the Icebergers swimming club, with members well into their seventies diving in and seemingly unperturbed by the icy embrace of Port Philip Bay.
John used to be a swimming coach in Brighton and enjoyed his fair share of jumps off the Brighton Pier. Working at a local swimming centre, he was a favourite swimming instructor, teaching children from the wider Bayside area.
A passionate athlete, he helped generations of young Victorians find their gills. Over many years he became a well-loved member of his community.
Three years ago, in his early 50s, John was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and quickly began to lose his mobility. For an incredibly active and outgoing person, it was a huge hit to his independence and confidence.
His Just Better Care Bayside Support Professional, Ullanda, says John is more active than her.
“Sometimes I don’t have the energy for him,” she laughs. “He’s just always on the go, eager to get out and do things.”
Together, they often go to his favourite beachside spots like Green Point, a popular picnic spot among Brighton locals.
With the shared passions of active lifestyles and good food, John and Ullanda are a great fit. Just Better Care Bayside co-owner, Claire, has a knack for matching customers and carers with similar hobbies and passions.
“I cook for a living, so Claire linked me up with John and we do his meal preparation together,” Ullanda says.
“He chops the vegetables and I’ll get a pot of soup going. When I need to leave, he’ll just carry on and finish cooking it, working up a meal fit for a king.”
Ullanda often goes with John to his favourite organic stores, where they’ll work their way around the fresh produce. John has a good eye for the best vegetables.
“In every shop there is someone who knows John,” she says. “From Coles, to the ladies at the health shops and even just crossing the street, everyone knows him.”
“I think because he’s lived in the area for so long and he’s so outgoing, everyone adores him.”
Back in the water, John now has hydrotherapy as part of the treatment for Parkinson’s. The pool is right in his local community where he used to teach. The swimming lessons re-energise him and remind him of the movement he used to have.
“We document his progress and we are seeing him improve every time,” says Ullanda. “Just the other day, he walked 50 metres after hydrotherapy. It’s amazing.”
For John, it’s an instinct. Athletes have a determination and physical fitness that surpasses most people.
Being home, in the place you know and among the people to whom you are connected, is important for most people, and particularly as we grow older.