Emma Deighan meets up with two generations who share an inspirational passion for fitness, a father and son who have travelled the globe, and encountered life-changing experiences that prove that age is just a number.
Denis Broderick is 65 years of age.
He’s a young 65. In fact, I would hazard a guess that because of his active lifestyle and zest for life, he is more of a 40-something in essence.
It’s only the chronological list of achievements and adventures that he gives me that would say otherwise.
Denis can date his first interest and accomplishment in sport to when he was just 10 years of age. Since then, he’s succeeded and participated in a huge variety of sports from Gaelic football, basketball and rugby to cycling, diving, sky diving, swimming, squash and more recently, golf and his age has definitely not slowed him down.
Denis, who has a long career in the hospitality and catering industry, isn’t deterred by age. He believes it’s just a number.
“When I talk about wines, I say things are relative just like me, it’s all relative. To me, being old is at least 90. It’s all about frame of mind,” he said.
“At this stage I don’t feel inhibited at all. Sometimes I’ve to say to myself to ease off but it’s ongoing. It’s not as if we reach a point or an age and decide we will stop doing sport. We don’t stop playing because we are old; we get old because we stop playing.”
Denis says sport has played an important role in his life ‘directly and indirectly’. His heavy involvement in an active lifestyle has saw him experience things that many of us could only dream off and he has raised over £65,000 for numerous charities in the process including the National Council for the Blind in Ireland, various cancer-related charities, Mencap and his chosen charity, the National Deaf Children’s Society.
He has travelled the globe extensively - mostly for charity cycles. Some of the destinations he’s travelled to include South Africa, the Canadian Rockies, nearly every corner of Ireland, Cuba, China, America ‘coast to coast’, Vietnam, Argentina - ‘a fair wee bit of the world’, he says.
Denis, who once lived in South Africa for a year when it was apartheid, even jumped at the opportunity to return there in the mid 90s for Cycle South Africa - an opportunity that he relished, and one that led him to meet up with another very inspirational individual.
“I met Nelson Mandela when he was just in office two years and that was one of the highlights of my life. I was so stunned we ended up with him for 40 minutes. Him chatting away. Back then we were a bit delicate in this country and he said we needed to talk. He was so well informed about this wee country and he’s a great example of how age is just a number. He was 78 then and full of life and energy,” recalled Denis, whose achievements saw him carry the Olympic Torch earlier this year.
Meeting Nelson Mandela is one of many memorable experiences that Denis has enjoyed: “You get these magic moments and all that has come about through sports,” he continued.
Some of his ‘magic moments’ have been witnessing his children and grandchildren share the same passion for sport and activity that he does.
“As I parent I was, and thankfully still am, able to share some of my skills and see them all become competent swimmers, with life-saving qualifications and still enjoy open water days. This gives me great pleasure,” continued Denis.
“Riding on some of the bike challenges was good for all of us and gave them the message as young teenagers studying for exams, that what you put in determines what you get out,” he added.
Father of three, Denis has certainly bestowed his passion and energy upon his sons John and Serame and daughter Catherine.
John, 39, is just fresh from competing in the Iron Man Triathlon in Galway - a monumental journey for even the most accomplished of athletes.
John says he is driven by his father’s efforts over the years, as too are his friends across the world: “I’ve been encouraged and driven from a young age and my friends have been inspired by daddy,” says John. “He is very much so a hero.”
A humbled Denis responds by explaining he practised a fine balance between encouraging and driving his children.
“I’ve never pressured John into it. I remember going across the Rockies in 1997 and people telling me ‘that cub’ has real potential - but I would never have pushed that. It’s something he has done himself,” said Denis.
John who even availed of a scholarship to swim at Eaton, like his father has enjoyed some momentous achievements but always with his father in mind.
“One day he called me up to see if I wanted to do a course,” Denis continued. “I thought he meant a computer course but it was skydiving.”
“You encourage yourself to pursue these opportunities. These experiences don’t just come to you. There has to be a bit of research,” said father-of-one John.
“There’s always an element of reach, nothing is always in your grasp,” affirmed Denis, who once found himself on an underwater archaeological dive off the coast of Italy after following up on a news story he saw on television in London.
Both Denis and John appreciate a challenge and Denis says he often relates sport to his everyday life.
“The more you put in, the more you get out,” he added. “Challenges are a lesson on life and they’re to be faced but you can cope better if you have goals or a plan in action.
“Lance Armstrong, although he may not be the best person to quote, comes to mind. He said ‘pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever’.”
John and his wife once trekked Machu Picchu around 2002 - an adventure that saw John follow a treasure trail a year later - a ‘goal or plan in action’ if you like.
“I looked for something; a landmark that I could bury this gift for daddy when he would come to Machu Picchu,” began John, on the story that made it onto the Radio Ulster airwaves.
“I couldn’t find anywhere to bury this gift without damaging or spoiling the area so we decided to climb the neighbouring mountain and found this massive boulder at the top and behind the rock, there was a small rock, and I put a little treasure chest from Bolivia in it alongside a photograph of me and my wife.”
One year later, Denis made his way up that same mountain: “I headed off to do it and another fella came with me. We got up and John had given me a photograph of the rock but I’d forgotten it so we had to search. Everyone was looking at this mad man looking under rocks, I remember the expression on their faces. I was almost about to give up when we found it.
“I flicked open the chest and in it was a picture of John and Louise and it said, ‘if you’re reading this daddy then you’ve found it, well done’. That would be another one of my most memorable moments. I remember when we got back to the town, people were talking about the Irish man who found the wee parcel that his son left a year ago!”
Denis and his family can recall countless joint experiences brought about by their active lifestyles that would make the moderately active and adventurous squirm with laziness.
No matter how busy their personal and work lives become they still manage to fit in sport and activity.
“There are a lot of early mornings,” says John, who has his own optician’s. “You just have to hang on in there and carry on.”
“It’s always very easy to find a reason why you shouldn’t do something,” added Denis. “But there’s no way you can get ready for these adventures without training. When I did my cycles, I remember doing over 80 hours a week in work and I had to find the time - early in the morning but that was great because that then cleared your head and you’d probably already solved all the things that were annoying you.”
“It is great in that way,” continued John. “Work that can stress you can pale into significance after you do some exercise.”
And neither have any intention of quitting any time soon, or ever for that matter.
“When you get to 65, you’re glad you’re here. Some of the people I went to college with haven’t got to this age so you feel very lucky. It’s about surviving but surviving in a way that allows you to live and have opportunities. Those who are here joke with me that it’s time I should give up. But I don’t think that way.
“It’s business as usual until everything ceases. Exercise helps you get rid of whatever is weighing you down. It’s like you’ve purged it and you feel everything is good again. The hardest bit is saying yes and going for it,” concluded Denis.
First published 06/11/2012 www.newsletter.co.uk
Monday 29 April is European Day of Solidarity between Generations.