Peddling his way into the hearts of those in need

He wanted to ride fast and feel the wind on his face. He feared going fast and preferred to ride steadily. She needed every move explained – turning right, turning left, stopping, crossing a road, going up a hill, down a hill and so on in order to feel safe.

These are just some of the needs John Morton takes into account when he becomes the ‘Captain’ on a tandem bicycle and takes a ‘Stoker’ up behind him when they go on a long, leisurely ride around Ross River or out to the port or Pallarenda. The Stokers who ride with John can be hearing or vision impaired, have conditions such as Downs Syndrome or suffer brain trauma from motor vehicle accidents. Whatever their situation, they are unable to ride a pushbike and get out into the natural environment on their own.

John says, “No two clients are alike and I first need to understand and then accommodate their expectations and anxieties in order to make their ride enjoyable.” One lady who was vision impaired wouldn’t ride with anyone else but John. He calmed her anxieties about not being able to see where she was going by describing and explaining every move so she could anticipate the movements and sensations. The impact these weekly rides have on the mental health and well-being of the clients is immeasurable.

John has always volunteered in some capacity for his community. As a younger man, he was the president of the Townsville Veteran’s Tennis Club for 35 years. He served on several Parents and Friends Committees whilst his children were at school; was involved in the administration of the local Scout’s group; was the cricket club president and an athletics and cricket club coach.

John juggled these duties whilst working for 42 years in a high-pressured job spending much of his time in front of a computer. When he retired from this career at 60 years of age, John decided to do something very different with far less pressure and that led to volunteering in a range of positions for a range of organisations namely, the Ozcare Villa Vincent Aged Care Facility; the Townsville Tandem Pushbike Club and Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA).

John says, “What I love about my volunteering work with these organisations is the complete reversal of my former role, the fact that I am outdoors and physically active and the challenge I set myself to learn a very different range of skill sets and ways of operating with people.”

At Ozcare Villa Vincent, John assists in maintaining the extensive grounds and gardens. There are endless rows of hedges to be trimmed, multiple lawns to be mowed, boundless weeds to be pulled out of garden beds, pruning, raking, fertilising, planting and watering to be done.

John interacts with a majority of the residents as he makes his way around the grounds and gardens of the facility. A wave, a greeting, a chat, all enhance the quality of life for the residents of Villa Vincent. The elderly men, in particular, enjoy having another man about the complex to talk to as they live in a largely female oriented establishment. As John says, ‘I’m not under pressure to perform now. I can stop for 10 minutes and pass the time of day with a resident who wants to talk to me.” As a number of residents are socially isolated, a chin wag with John adds value and meaning to their day. Knowing that he is going to be there twice a week gives them something to look forward to.

John says, “It’s like a smorgasbord. I can do whatever I like and know that anything I do adds value to the establishment and the lives of the residents.”

Within Conservation Volunteers Australia, John travels an area bounded by Magnetic Island, Cape Upstart near Ingham and Home Hill to work with a crew who clean up beaches, remove weeds and rubbish from endangered ecosystems and aid in conserving areas of native bushland. It is hard physical work, especially through our summers but John says, “I like to get in and get the work done.”

“I will be volunteering long down the track. I’m here for the fun of it. It’s great for my mental and physical health and gives me a sense of pride. I’m always thinking about what I have to do next. And it keeps me connected to my community.”

John was nominated and shortlisted for the Heart of Volunteering Award at the 2020 NQ Volunteer of the Year Virtual Awards.

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