Meet our Get set. 60 winners – Mary Walsh

Our society’s perspective on aging doesn’t always line up with reality. Over-60s have never been more able, active and engaged with their world. At Apia, we want to celebrate everyday Australians who defy the stereotypes! In Apia’s Get set 60 initiative, we championed some standout personalities in the over-60 community like Mary Walsh – a passionate volunteer at WA Seabird Rescue. Read on as Mary tackles some common misconceptions of life over 60 and explains how she proves them wrong.

Misconception #1: Life's boring after you turn 60.

“Life's been really exciting for me. It's full of surprises with my birds and full of excitement with my travels. For my 60th birthday, we went on a volcano tour around southern Italy with an itinerary that included climbing Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli. While we were there, the Stromboli volcano had a proper constant eruption, which was just amazing timing. It was the trip of a lifetime! Especially because my first word was volcano! Everyone else’s is mum or dad… [Growing up in Vanuatu], my mum used to hold me in her arms and point out the volcano glowing in the sky at night.”

Misconception #2: People over 60 are lonely and disengage with their community.

“Maybe some people disengage, but not me. It's really sad when that happens. That's not how life should be at all. But there is a feeling of being overlooked as you get older - it's natural for people to only focus on the things that they feel are important in life. So, I suppose that feeling loneliness does come from somewhere, but it's not a good somewhere … It feels great to bond with people over a shared purpose. [In my volunteering] it’s so nice to be part of a team who are all trying to do the right thing together, working together to that end goal. It's so supportive, it’s a lovely group to be part of.

Misconception #3: People over 60 aren't very independent.

“I think it’s the reverse. Totally the reverse. Like, I've made it this far - no one's going to tell me what to do! That said, you usually need somebody to work with you when you're on a rescue - and most rescues I do with my husband. In a recent rescue of two cygnets, I was on my paddleboard and only able to catch one of the birds on my own. But I was able to get the other in to shore, where my husband could reach it. It's a real team effort, which is great. It's a really proud moment when you can do something that people don't expect you to be able to do, either because of your age or because it's difficult. It's a good feeling.”

Misconception #4: People over 60 aren’t that active.

“All the people I know that are retired are as active as ever. I have a friend who lives near the beach and she swims every day, and she can swim for miles and not get puffed. And on my volcano tour, most of the other tourists were over 60 and all of them made the climb without trouble. Even Etna, which is at 3000 metres - and you get a bit short of oxygen up there. But we all made it to the top and looked into the crater! I’ve got no intention of slowing down - I go to the gym to make sure that I keep up my muscle strength and cardio fitness. I give the younger people a run for their money!”

Misconception #5: People over 60 don't take risks.

“I certainly take risks. Rescuing birds is a risk, one way or another. You can get pecked, you can get scratched. I was chasing a duck recently with my long-handled net and decided I’d try a rugby leap to get it - the grass was soft and muddy grass, so I thought I’d be able to slide like they do on a football field. But I took the leap, missed the duck, and landed on my ribs - the next day they were really, really sore! If I’d caught the bird, maybe that risk would’ve been worth it - but yes, I take risks. It's so important to just decide that our risks are worth taking, that life's an adventure - and it shouldn't stop being an adventure just because you're older.”

Our community has always known the richness, the potential, the happiness that life over 60 brings - even though society hasn’t quite caught up. One of the clearest paths to securing more accurate representation is to share and celebrate more stories like Mary’s - and more.

With more than 30 years of getting to know Australia’s over-60 community, Apia is committed to bringing those truths to those who need to hear them most. Here’s to more adventures ahead!

Watch one of Mary’s bird-rescuing adventures below and read more about our other Get set. 60 winners here.

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