December 26, 2009

AUSTRALIA: A kilometre a day keeps old age at bay for swimmer

. MELBOURNE, Victoria / The Age / National News / December 26, 2009 By Chris Johnston ERIC Kennedy married Lorna Flynn in Yarraville in 1943. They'd met at a wartime dance at the Williamstown Town Hall and there's a photograph still of their first date, a walk through the Botanic Gardens. He reckons she had beautiful hair and still does. "I thought: 'I'll drop my anchor here if I can', " says Eric. They're well into their 80s now. Eric is 86. He swims like mad every day and goes to the gym. Lorna is into opera and dancing. "All she does is sing and dance around the house," he says. Eric gets up at 4am every day to swim at a pool in Werribee and then do the sauna and gym. He's done this for 30 years but recently dropped back to one kilometre of laps from three kilometres because he had a knee reconstruction and, anyway, he's 86. "I find a kilometre quite comfortable," he says. "I swim it fairly hard." Eric Kennedy, 86, has only recently cut back his training from three kilometres a day to one, following a knee reconstruction. Photo: Rebecca Hallas He's swimming the Lorne Pier to Pub on January 9. He'll be the oldest in it, a 1.2-kilometre swim in the ocean. He's done 15 of them and he does others on the ocean circuit. The Pier to Pub is one of those summer institutions in Victoria like the Boxing Day Test at the 'G. Also swimming this year are three generations of the Johnson family: Garry, 68, on his 26th swim, his son-in law, Jeremy Johnson-King, and granddaughter Georgia, 12. Then there's Damon Kendrick, 49, of Frankston South, a World Masters Games gold medal swimmer who got half one of his legs bitten off by a bull shark in South Africa when he was 14. For Eric, swimming is health. He's made of strong stuff; he says he's never even had a headache. "Lorna says that's because I've got no brains in there," he says, "but I feel terrific, good exercise helps you all round. In a sense, I feel as strong as I always was (Eric wrestled at state level before World War II) even though I know I'm not." His daughter, Andrea Frost, says the only time she has seen her silver fox of a father sick was recently when he had his new knee put in and got an infection in hospital. "I cried and cried," she says, "I'd never seen him like that, he'd lost a lot of weight, he's always fit and always strong. He was yellow. He looked like Mr Burns from The Simpsons." Still. He was only off swimming six weeks. The problem is now one knee feels heavier than the other in the water. "I can't quite get the flexibility I want," he says. Eric Kennedy has got a great Australian story, rich in big history but also touched by a real sadness - his son, Byron, was with filmmaker George Miller in the Kennedy/Miller team that made Mad Max but Byron died in a helicopter crash when he was 33. Eric and Lorna also have a daughter, Andrea. One of her sons was named Byron in honour of him. Eric was born in Morwell and raised in Yallourn North. His father, Patrick Kennedy, was from Violet Town but worked at sea as a rigger. He also worked in South America as a labourer on tunnels being built through the Andes. He served at Gallipoli and was shot through the eye but survived. Patrick's brother, Edward, Eric's uncle, was awarded a Military Cross for bravery in World War I in France. The generation before them, according to Kennedy family folklore and at least one history book, was associated with Ned Kelly up near Benalla. He worked all his life as a State Electricity Commission engineer. Served in the air force in World War II, training navigators at bases around Australia. Built a weatherboard house in Yarraville himself and lived in it for 30 years with Lorna. Then built another one from scratch in Werribee where they still live. They started buying property in the '80s and now have five houses and some shops in Williamstown. They are set to move into one of those houses, on The Strand, next year - overlooking the water. [rc] Copyright © 2009. Fairfax Digital