graham-sayer
If you had to ask me the one underlying reason I have for being fit and healthy, it’s not for appearance’s sake, or even athleticism, or being able to do 100 burpees in a row.

It’s so that as I get older, I can continue to do all the things I love so dearly: to have adventures, to always have new experiences, to pla, climb, swim, kick and punch to my heart’s content.

Living a long, healthy, active life is one of my biggest aspirations. And I strongly believe the key to accomplishing this is to stay young at heart—and body—for life.

Graham Sayer is the epitome of fitness, health, and adventure. New Zealand born and now living in Australia, he works out 5 days a week and seeks out adventure at life’s every turn. For his 80th birthday, Graham didn’t just have a party to celebrate—he opted to go skydiving instead.

I hope Graham’s story inspires you as much as it did me. His life is proof that if you stay active, pay attention to what you eat, constantly seek out new experiences, and have a sense of humor about life, you’ll never really be forced to grow old.

It’ll take work, and it won’t be easy, but it is possible.

Let’s meet Graham, my new hero.

80 years of adventure

graham-sayer
At 80 years young, Graham is a doctor, an accomplished athlete, and a die-hard vegetarian. He’s accomplished enough for three person’s lifetimes, and his tale is worthy of a book.

And when I asked Graham to tell me a little about his background, he sent me a 3,000+ word eulogy full of insanely fascinating life stories, and I had a heck of a time trying to condense them into a single blog post.

Here are just a few:

_He’s gone through military training, was a paramedic and a member of the Search and Rescue team on 24 hour standby, worked with the World Health Organization on the smallpox vaccination campaign to vaccinate 2 1/2 million people in the jungle, contracted malaria while working in the shadow of an active volcano on the island of New Britain, and worked among tribal fighting on Bougainville Island where it was common practice for warriors’ bodies to be brought into the hospital he was responsible for so they could “be brought back to life.”

_When he worked as a paramedic, he would do strange things like join the crew of government lighthouse supply ships as they visited New Zealand’s wildest and most isolated places to bring fresh supplies to the lighthouses by rowing ashore in long boats in often perilous conditions. 

_Other times, he would enter a martial arts training camp, just to see how high his pain threshold was. He’s also done Japanese karate, obtained a black belt and was a member of the winning Queensland team.

_For a time Graham’s exercise program was based on distance running, and he has run in total some 20 half marathons. But disaster struck when he developed throat cancer 10 years ago even though he’d never smoked and had to go through five weeks of radiation. This was only a few weeks before the Gold Coast half marathon, which doctors told him was “not possible unless you enter the wheelchair event.” Graham ran it anyway.

_When his knees became damaged from running, he switched to cycling and bought a racing bike. In the first year, he crashed some six times and dislocated one shoulder which he replaced himself while lying on the ground. In Graham’s own words… “What a masochist!”

_He tried out rowing and the first time he tried the 500m sprint, he broke the Australian record for his age group. Since then, he’s broken both the 500m and 1000m Australian records, earned the World first place ranking for his age group, and won some 12 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals.

One of his favorite mantras is:

“The only way to discover the limits of the possible, is to go beyond them into what we believe to be impossible.” – Arthur C. Clarke

Well said, Graham.

Let’s hear from Graham himself:

graham-sayer2

Krista: What’s your current workout regimen?

Graham: I do a mix of your type of exercises plus short runs, weights, two-handled heavy balls and boxing, enough variety to keep it interesting.

Krista: Have you always been active and adventurous? How did you keep this up and make it a habit when many most people tend to become more and more sedentary as they age?

After I got divorced in 1970, I looked in the mirror and decided that I had become overweight in the last two years and realised that I would not have a great love life if I didn’t get back into shape, so, I went to excess and took up weightlifting at a gym, karate at a local hall and running in the mornings as much as possible.

I realised that once you had got into good physical shape, it was rather easy to stay there… BUT… this depended on a mindset that did not permit missed workouts even when I was travelling, I would set the alarm for 0500, have a tea & toast and then take off like a bat out of hell on my run for 1 hour, also carrying dumbells with me if travelling by car thus allowing a workout in the hotel/motel room.

Motivation?? Stand in front of the mirror in your birthday suit… Do you like what you see?

Additionally, the advantage of exercising every day is so that when you die and they view you in your coffin, they can say, “Well, he does look good, doesn’t he?”

Krista: What’s your diet like?

Graham: A healthy diet is the foundation and it should be preferably plant and fruit based… I eat fish occasionally but try to stay vegetarian.

You would not put poor quality fuel into an expensive high-performance car, so why put crap food into your body?

Krista: You went skydiving for your 80th birthday! How did this come about? Tell us about it!

Graham: A fantastic experience… always apprehensive during the 15 minutes it takes to get to jump altitude and I was crammed in with 4 others in a tiny Cessna [plane].

But as the green light goes on and you exit, all is forgotten in the rush of air against your face during the 45 second freefall at around 200kph then the jerk of the chute opening and a beautiful controlled six minute glide down to the beach… landing on my butt in the soft sand because I had to protect my new knee joints.

Interestingly, there is no feeling of falling, rather of floating like a bird.

Krista: Any other crazy adventures you’ve had worth mentioning?

Graham: I was attending a medical conference in Bali, Indonesia, where we had all overeaten the night before at a ceremonial dinner. I got up early to run and after a short distance, Indonesian police pulled up beside me and arrested me for running away from the scene of a crime! [They let him go after paying a “police fund donation”…] As I continued on my way, a young attractive hooker on a motorcycle pulled up alongside and suggested that for a modest fee, I could better spend my energy on her… OMG… too hot for that nonsense.

[I’ve also] abseiled down cliffs, bungee jumped, paraglided, windsurfed, jet-boat stunts, ski patrolled New Zealands mountains and been in near death whiteouts, been shot at, stabbed, threatened with execution twice and been shipwrecked and written off as dead, but apart from that it’s been a quiet life…

Krista: Any plans for your 81st birthday yet?

Graham: Not yet… I did think of trying Mt. Everest but I found out that there’s nowhere to plug my electric blanket into… Crazy ideas are welcome.

Krista: What’s your biggest piece of advice for people who want to make health and exercise a priority and stay fit and active for life?

Graham: You have to alter your mindset and visualize what you wish to be… daily meditation with goal visualization is great for this… Visit healthy eating websites to get new cooking ideas… Do not use excuses (unless ill) to miss a workout.

Goals should be written down, and reviewed and revised if necessary.

Goals for getting started; the next month; the next six months; the longterm… Write out some quotes and put them on your fridge.

And do not be dissuaded by BFP’s (Old English – Bigge Fatte Pigges). They don’t want you to make them feel guilty.

“The winners in sport, and in life, are those that think constantly in terms of, I can, I will, and I am. Losers, on the other hand, concentrate all their waking thoughts on what they should have done, or would have done, or what they can’t do, and why they can’t do it.” – Nadia Comaneci, World champion gymnast, Olympic perfect 10 score.

Krista: All I can say is… wow.

Hey 12MA readers: If you have a story about how 12 Minute Athlete workouts have changed your life or a story you think will inspire other 12 Minute Athlete readers, I’d love to hear from you! Get in touch here.