Interview with Bob: community member of 1 Small Step

Born and raised in Eastbourne, Bob Cooley is currently taking part in the 1 Small Step Campaign.

Bob Cooley

Bob Cooley

Living in Eastbourne

I was born in Eastbourne, in Upperton Road although the maternity home is no longer there. My father was born in the town too and had no particular desire to ever be anywhere else. I did escape a few times but always came back ‘home’.

Staying active

I’m more active now than I can remember being in the past. Like many people, as you get older you seem to end up at a desk at work as I do now.

I spent 20 years in Eastbourne as an Auxiliary Coastguard and needed to be relatively active to do that. It could be very physically and mentally demanding at times. In fact it was doing that job that I realised what mental strength can do to help you physically.

I don’t really have a favourite activity. I tend to look at activity as an achievement, something to take pleasure from just being able to take part in. When I run, although most people would call it jogging, and the breathing has settled into a nice rhythm it’s just such a powerful feeling of control over your body. Couple that with the freedom of being able to go wherever you want in your own time, and it makes it a very addictive activity.

Running with my wife is nice, she is about the same pace as I am and so we go together quite a lot. It could be the seafront, maybe the Downs and Beachy Head.

Weir Wood Reservoir

Weir Wood Reservoir, photo by Kevin Blowe

Swimming is much the same, once the breathing is under control and you get into a nice rhythm you can just go on forever. I prefer outdoor swimming to the pool so if it’s safe I’d rather go in the sea, or  in the reservoir at Weir Wood near Forest Row.

I do a bit of cycling too but in Sussex even the back roads are quite busy so it’s difficult to find a route that’s good for me to train on. A short ride to kill an hour would be about 18 miles, a serious ride would be about 50 miles, and from time to time I’ll do a sportive of 80 miles or so.

Taking part in triathlons

To keep me motivated I need to be structured and have a purpose. At the moment I’m committed to training to compete in triathlons. Because it’s an endurance sport it also means getting your food consumption right. For the last 3 or 4 years I have done what we call sprint distance events: 500 metre swim, 16-20 miles on the bike and 3-6 mile runs.

My road to fitness

In 2009 at the age of 59 I had just gone through the traumatic loss of my business. I was 15 and a half stone (105 Kilos) and wasn’t in a good place at all. I knew I had to get my weight back under control, and my life in general from what was a very depressing situation.

I was at Gatwick airport and was looking for something to take away to read on the plane. I picked up a triathlon magazine. I don’t know why as I couldn’t even spell it, let alone do it. But something clicked and I decided that a new food regime along with a mission to complete was what I needed.


Triathlon, photo by Greg Bowie

I couldn’t swim a pool length without a panic attack so there was a bit of a challenge as my first triathlon required 10 lengths. A lot of effort went into that. I was an okay cyclist anyway and the distances in short triathlons were not a problem. My run is shocking but with practice it hasn’t deteriorated any further.

Anyway the training hasn’t stopped and the food regime has persisted with the result that I lost 4 stone and found exercise easier. A secret bonus is that the more you exercise the more energetic you become, it defies logic but it is true.

Having a positive mental attitude

Doing exercise is 95% mental attitude – the hardest part of getting up and doing something is putting your trainers on. If you can make yourself do that simple task then stepping out of the door is easy.

There is also a lot of evidence that regular exercise reduces tension and depression as well.

My goals for the next few years

My main event this year is competing in a middle distance triathlon often known as a ‘half Ironman’. It’s a 1.2 mile swim followed by a 56 mile bike ride and a half marathon 13.1 mile run. It should take between 6 to 7 hours. It’s a British Championship event which means that if I finish in the top 3 in my age group, I will be able to represent Team GBR at other international events.

Maybe not this year but I have my eye on that as something possible for the future. What better motivation can you get than being good enough to represent your country at your chosen discipline? There are a few other minor events I’ll be doing but that is the real challenge. Another exciting thing this year is the Olympics, and I’m going to attend as one of the Gamesmakers.

Maybe I’ll also do something about planning the tandem ride with my wife from France to Greece that we’ve spoken about a few times. There are still great challenges out there and adventures to be found and fun to be had. While we do acknowledge that time is not infinite, and that at some point the years will catch up with us, we both intend to live the ones we have to the maximum, setting new goals all the time.

How society perceives you as you get older

Getting older is about getting wiser, learning from our environment and the mistakes and the things that we’ve seen to work. Age is just a number and not a particularly relevant one either.

We have 2 different ages, chronological which counts the years and metabolic which measures your body performance against an average.

I use scales that determine not just body weight but body composition as well. This measures water content, lean muscle mass and so on. It also converts those figures using an algorithm into what is known as a metabolic age. That is, the age that the science says your body components are working at. Mine is generally around 40, so I have the functioning body of an average 40 year old man, which I can live with. But it doesn’t make me 40, I’m 62.

Some people function like a person much younger than their chronological age, and others much older. It’s a question of how old you feel, and how old you behave that determines your age. We need to lay the foundations for being healthy at 50 when people are in their 20s.

Life in Eastbourne for over 50s

People over 50 have pretty much the same needs as those under 50. Changes in lifestyle need to be made long before people reach 50 so that they can be in great shape when they get there. The changes in Eastbourne need to be rethought with a more holistic approach to a lifespan rather than a small time segment of a lifespan. People should be encouraged to use what already exists rather than trying to create something for such a wide range of individuals.

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