Last month we published two challenging articles on aging; our resistance to it, and the realities of life for some of our more vulnerable elders who live alone.
I am convinced we can do better. As a society, though we’ve barely noticed it, we have evolved with the goal of being as efficient as possible, enabling us to squeeze the absolute maximum out of our lives. Somewhere along the way, our humanity has taken a back seat and efficiency has taken the wheel.
Remember the Waltons? The 70’s TV show which painted a beautiful picture of a loving rural family, complete with elderly grandparents all living under the one roof. At some point that picture gave way to homes with nuclear families – as each child married they would leave the nest to set up their own home. Eventually the parents would be left alone until they could no longer manage daily life without help.
Rest-homes became the new service for families to take burden of everyday elder care from their busy shoulders. It seemed like a logical solution. And very efficient.
But the hidden cost of this was the role in society for these people who were transitioning between ‘usefulness’ and death. By institutionalising our elders, we failed to notice that a) there was now a massive gap in society and b) these people had no function to fill. I could also add c) we stopped feeling the burden of care.
Cause without effect doesn’t exist. The knock-on here is how society has developed - in a way, similar to a person who becomes accustomed to losing a limb, we learn to compensate until it is our new ‘norm.’ For the rest of the body, the limb becomes a distant memory. But for the limb, with no purpose it begins to wither and die.
In this analogy, society is the ‘body,’ our seniors are the severed ‘limb.’ Effectively seniors have lost their function in society, and society bumbles on without the benefit of their wisdom – wisdom that only comes through time.
What have we done?
Olympic Sevens women’s player Tyla Nathan-Wong’s first rugby game was in a tournament at Blockhouse Bay Primary School. She remembers being the only girl on the team and playing in bare feet.
It was a humble beginning that thousands of youngsters could relate to. Now at just 22 years old, she has got the reward of an Olympic medal as part of the “Sevens Sisters” for the years she has dedicated to intensive training.
At the Olympics the team was gutted that they could not bring home gold, but now, looking back, Tyla says she realises what an incredible achievement they accomplished. “We went out and emptied the tank, and gave it everything we’ve got, but we just couldn’t get it across the line.” Since then, the fantastic support of friends, family and people across New Zealand has helped her to get a better perspective and realise that they have done well.
It all started here in Blockhouse Bay for Tyla. She fondly remembers her teacher Mrs Barrett at primary school. They are still in touch as Tyla’s mum is a hairdresser and does Mrs Barrett’s hair, as well as her daughter’s.
During her primary years Tyla met her first All Black, Jona Lomu. We asked her about her memories of the Bay. Tyla says she had a lot of cousins living in the area at the time and they used to hang out around the shops. Her favourite place was Bay Fisheries for fish and chips. The shop probably hasn’t changed a bit!
Sports continued to grow as an interest through her time at BHB Intermediate so that when she arrived at Lynfield College in Year 9 she says “I did something like 10 sports. It was crazy!”
At Lynfield Tyla really got back into rugby, encouraged by ex-Black Fern Vania Wolfgramm (nee Lavea) who was sports co-ordinator at Lynfield College at the time. Wolfgramm was later named as NZ Women’s Sevens Coach in 2012 with an eye to Rio. Wolfgramm said at the time “girls need to play for something – there needs to be an incentive.”
It was during her time at Lynfield, Tyla first got into club rugby. She credits her Dad and Grandfather as the biggest influences on her rugby – “they taught me the basics of ball handling and tackle lessons. They were the driving force.”
The team won the first three World Sevens series in 2012, 2013 and 2014, but Australia was coming up fast, and were picked to win Rio. Women’s Sevens entered the Olympics almost by default because gender equality meant that Sevens would only be part of the Olympics if women’s teams were included. All we can say is thankfully they were, because the men’s team left many feeling that NZRU wasn’t taking Sevens seriously.
Now with the success of the women, suddenly there is a global opportunity for female athletes in NZ to aspire to – something that the Rugby Union is leveraging with a national tour of “seven cities” – including Ruatoki.
NZ Rugby Head of Women’s Rugby Cate Sexton said the organisation was incredibly proud of what the team has achieved in Rio – both on and off the field. “Many Kiwis have never seen the team play before and the public’s been blown away by the players’ skill and heart” she said.
Women’s rugby is the fastest growing part of the NZRU. Sexton says “these women are role models for young girls. The players are keen to give back and help grow the game for girls.”
Tyla notes that women’s rugby has enjoyed tremendous growth since the Sevens were included in the Olympics in 2010. She says she is glad to have showcased the game. “It’s great to inspire the next generation and to create a legacy.”
From a barefoot kid at Blockhouse Bay Primary School to Olympic medallist – thank you Tyla for being part of our lives.