At 93, this senior teaches an active lifestyle
By LeAne H. Rutherford
“I failed at retirement,” Tom Avenell says. And he’s right. At age 93, after a full work life, the River Park resident is still on the move. A self-described “nice old man,” he conducts balance, exercise and self-defense classes for seniors.
While his immediate focus is on teaching, his business background prepared him to conduct those classes. Avenell was a management consultant to banks, irrigation companies, credit associations, agricultural organizations and chemical companies. He was a problem-solver and troubleshooter.
A bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly, a master’s from Cornell and post-graduate studies at Stanford prepared him for scrutinizing, evaluating and solving business dilemmas. Problems ranged from fraud to personnel issues. He dealt with audits and installed efficient practices and procedures.
In October 1984, Avenell started his own business, Tom Avenell Management Company. He worked across an expansive range of enterprises: banks, property management and restoration, business loans and stock trading. Whether working for others or himself, his purpose has always been to make things better.
Never idle, Avenell began learning taekwondo at age 66. Roughly translated, the Korean martial art means “the way of the hand and foot,” and, most importantly, “the way of life.” For Avenell, it meant embracing a new physical and transcendent aspect of life.
“The day I broke the brick with my bare hand was one of the greatest days of my life,” he says.
Starting such a demanding sport at a mature age amazed his instructors and sparring partners. At 70, he almost achieved his black belt, but for a heart-stopping setback: the replacement of an aorta and installation of a pacemaker.
Taekwondo forged a link between what Avenell had been doing and what he does now with his senior balance and self-defense classes. “I like to make things better, and now I can make people better,” he says.
Illustrating those goals, he led classes at Sunrise Senior Living where he helped two women residents with Parkinson’s park their walkers after he provided them with some simple resistance band exercises. Avenell says the last time he saw one of them, “She was rolling bowling balls in the activities room.”
He has led senior exercise classes for Ray Stone, Inc., a commercial real estate company, at three locations. He also has worked with senior housing providers Atria Senior Living and Golden Palms Mobile Home Estates.
Teaching self-defense to seniors empowers them physically and psychologically. By releasing tension and reducing stress, seniors become less vulnerable. Avenell’s wife Fiona notes another reason for his success at senior communities: “The residents like you,” she says.
“Is 30 Minutes a Day of Exercise Enough?” is the headline of a recent New York Times article. Avenell’s answer: “Listen to your body. If you can’t do 30 reps, do what you can.” There is no nobility in injuries, so Avenell tells students to breathe from their bellies, not their shoulders, and to never give up.
To age well, we must keep moving. For a man who has overcome health challenges, he never gives up. He perseveres and embraces life. Avenell sows his energy and reaps the harvest of helping others.
“He’s such an inspiration,” Fiona says.
LeAne H. Rutherford can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.