Our Volunteer of the Year: Carol Wheeler
Carol, 74, is Oldham Community Leisure’s (OCL) Volunteer of the Year, an accolade she won in March 2020 for her outstanding dedication to the Reach Exercise Referral Scheme and her voluntary role as a Physical Activity Mentor.
Although delighted with her award, she says: “My work at OCL has given my life purpose and meaning, and I love every moment of it.”
Carol, who was widowed eight years ago and now lives alone, is currently keeping safe and self-isolating due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She needs to be especially mindful of this virus due to her age and underlying health conditions. She says: “I’m doing the right thing, staying at home, but I miss my friends and the team at OCL. I miss my routine. I’m so grateful that many of the friends I’ve made through my voluntary work have been keeping in touch, ringing and texting. It really keeps my spirits up. It won’t be forever, and once it’s safe to go out again, I can’t wait to get back to the gym, to the classes and the people.”
Over the years, Carol has learnt the value and importance of an active life and she isn’t letting self-isolation stop her from moving every day. She first came to OCL through our Reach Scheme in January 2012 following a referral from the British Lung Foundation (now Pennine Lung Services) respiratory nurses after being diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
At the time, Carol was frequently breathless. The pulmonary rehabilitation she was referred for is designed to help people with lung problems improve their breathing and other health problems as well as boosting self-confidence and emotional wellbeing. Upon completion of the referral programme, Carol had reduced her blood pressure, her resting heart rate, her waist circumference and her weight, and she was also breathing much better. Carol has continued to exercise regularly, participating in classes and workouts at OCL to maintain her healthy lifestyle.
Keen to keep her exercise routine going during lock down, Carol is amazingly still managing to complete 15,000 steps a day, even in the confines of her home. She says: “I set myself little challenges, break the steps down into segments and complete them throughout the day. I walk from the front of my house to the back, and then repeat. I’m very focussed. I like to have completed 2,000 steps by breakfast to start my day positively. Throughout the day, I keep moving and never sit down for too long. You can keep active doing lots of things around the home from housework to singing and dancing whilst listening to music. I also like to do a spot of gardening, especially when the sun is shining.”
Carol has also been completing exercises sent by the instructor for her usual Friday morning class at OCL. “I stick to my routine, so I complete the exercises when the Friday Club class would usually take place. This week we had to complete 50 squats, as well as bunny jumps and press ups against the wall!”
Jason Bailey, Health and Wellbeing Officer, Oldham Community Leisure, says: “I’m so impressed with Carol’s continued commitment to keeping active and positive during lockdown. She’s staying home and staying safe, but she is also maintaining her fitness routine, which is fantastic. When I first met Carol back in 2012, I knew that she was special. She is so personable and I quickly realised that she could help inspire others that were starting on their own exercise referral programme.
“Carol now volunteers, leading and mentoring at many classes during the week. She takes the class registration and deals with class booking and cancellations. More importantly though, she is there to listen to people, and to understand and empathise. She is the heart and soul of the sessions.”
Carol says: “I talk to people and listen to their fears and worries. I offer sympathy and understanding. People often get upset at the first session. One lady cried with frustration; I took time to talk to her and reassured her and talked about my own experiences and how I felt at the start. The lady continued with the programme and she now laughs about her first visit.”
Jason concludes: “Carol is a truly deserving winner of Oldham Community Leisure’s Volunteer of the Year Award 2020. She has reached out to so many people in our community. She has not only transformed her life for the better but she has also helped others to change to become more active, healthier and happier.”