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Lunchtime Conversation



Kay Worrall is 68 years old and an absolute inspiration. 

If you think you can't do something, think again!   

Kay shows us that with determination, you can turn your world upside down and make it work
in the most amazing way.

Kay is extraordinarily fit, looks astonishing for her years and she radiates such a warmth and gentleness that belies her strength. 


What I did notice was above all else is that she loves giving to others and she loves her freedom.

It is these two things have shaped her life.


There was a significant event during Kay Worrall's adult life that stopped her in her tracks and from that moment emerged a woman who has used physical excellence to maintain balance and control. 

Her love of exercise and her dedication to the sport of triathlon saw her as a representative for Australia in the World Masters for ten years.


Her love of running has since helped her raise money for charity.   These ‘one woman’ events became known as the “Granny Kay Runs”.  

Kay’s motivation for using exercise as the ‘way’ to good health, the impact of dementia in the lives of her ageing mother and grandparents and why now she is leaving her brain to science is the reason behind her story. 

At this time of her life she feels privileged, she feels well, she keeps active, she still embraces new challenges and she says she would still like to do ‘just one more run for charity’. 


I began the interview by talking to Kay about her family history which gives you a little look into this particular part of Kay's world and then we discover the reasons why Kay’s life unfolded the way it did.  

I gained heaps by interviewing Kay and I know you reap great rewards from reading her story as well.  

This is a story about a very special woman.


Gigi:  Kay, I believe you are leaving your brain to science.  What prompted that?


Kay:  My mother was the fifth family member to suffer with dementia.  My paternal and maternal grandmothers, mother, motherinlaw and an auntie by marriage, all had Alzheimer’s.  I felt a need to help.


During my association with Ageing and Alzheimer’s Research Foundation and with my connection with alzheimer’s, Professor Jillian Krill mentioned that they receive quite a few diseased brains after autopsy but rarely do they get a healthy brain to compare them and work out what is what.   So that is what motivated me.


Gigi:  Do you have a theory on how your family might have developed this disease?


Kay:  No, because all of them had different backgrounds. 


My paternal grandmother had what I would call a very sheltered life.  She looked after the home and the family and was supported by very well by her husband “Old Chap”.  


My maternal grandmother, Ma, and Grandad were business people.   They owned a Butchers Shop in Sydney until they retired up to Springwood in the Blue Mountains.   Grandad had a beautiful and magnificent vegetable garden in Springwood and Ma was a great cook.  She was always making jams, pickles and preserves using her fuel stove.   She would also wash by hand in the copper with the old wash board. 


I loved visiting them.  Ma had a routine which you had to abide by though.  You ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at exactly the same times each day.   At 2 o’clock Ma would walk the 6 kilometre round trip up to the village.


So apart from doing housework, she had fresh air and a good walk in the afternoon so she kept active.  So there were no indications or conditions as to why she would develop dementia at that point.


Gigi:  They sound like were a fit and healthy couple, what happened?


Kay:  They were doing very well until Grandad fell out of bed one evening. They didn’t have a telephone and all Ma could do was sit on the floor with Grandad until 7 am in the morning.  Then she was able to go to the next door neighbour to phone for an ambulance.  Grandad had broken his hip and then came down with pneumonia in Hospital and sadly passed on.  Up to that stage, they were very healthy and lived  independent lives.


Gigi:  So how old were they at that time? 


Kay:  They were in their high eighties


Gigi:  So we’re looking at already long lives here.


Kay:  Yes.  Then after Grandad died Ma started to deteriorate.  I think it was the shock of losing Grandad that began to affect her mind.


Firstly I noticed she was neglecting her health such as lack of hygiene and then more things started to crop up.  Then she started to hallucinate.  She would look out the kitchen window and say “see at all those men, they are looking in the window”. 


The scariest one was when she would see all these people walking up the side path carrying a coffin and in the coffin the person was wrapped as a mummy.   The mummy would sit up and wave to Ma as she peered out.


Gigi:  That would be pretty awful to have to deal with.  Just out of interest, did she take a lot of medication?


Kay:  No nothing.  They lived a very healthy life and had a balanced diet.  Ma had a little bit of sherry, for medicinal reasons she said, but she wouldn’t have gone through a bottle of sherry in 2 years.


Gigi:  So Ma struggled on at home alone. 


Kay:  I was already visiting her twice a week even though I had three kids and the business, and then I just couldn’t supply all the help she needed.


She went to the local doctor and because he could see her health deterioration and for home safety reasons, the decision was made to look for a Nursing Home.


Fortunately, I was able to get her into Penrith Hospital thinking her friends would come down and visit her there, but not one person ever visited over a 6 month period.  I liked it to uprooting a large gum tree, and I think she lost the will to live.  Ma passed on in 1975 which was not long after Grandad in the end. 


Gigi:  What bound you to your Grandma so much do you think?


Kay:  It goes right back to my childhood. I had a very different childhood.  It was a difficult and abusive childhood.  Ma was the one who stood up me the whole time and every time I think of her, I feel she was more of a mother to me than my own mother. 


Mum herself had a very hard life.  She wasn’t the flavour of Ma’s life.  So Mum had a hard upbringing and when she married dad it developed into something very unpleasant. I felt warm and safe with my grandmother.


When Ma died, my mother had no feeling or inclination to organise anything so it was all left up to me.   At that point in my life I was coming out of a mental and physical breakdown.


Gigi:  What do you think caused the breakdown?


Kay:  I feel it came on for a number of reasons. We moved from the country to the city, and I was definitely a country girl.   Because of the business my husband had to leave for work at 4 am in the morning and often came home after 10 pm at night.  I had three children, two were 11 months apart. 

I think it was a combination of many things that lead me there.

I think your body gets to a point where it just can’t cope any more and your mind decides to give in as well.


Also I had followed in Ma’s regimented footsteps of a routine, like you washed on Monday, ironed on Tuesday etc.  I was desperately trying to keep that routine going but with everything else, I just couldn’t do it.


Friends were shocked when I broke because they thought I seemed so well.   I have since learnt that is part of the symptom of depression.  You can shield it very well from everyone if you work on it. 

Gigi:  Did you suffer badly?

Kay:  Well initially I was given medication which didn’t work, and I lost all my self worth.  Apparently it was too deep seated and I was given deep sleep therapy and electric shock treatment.


Anyhow I survived all of that and in a sense it was a good experience.  At the time though, I would not have wished it on my worst enemy.  


Feeling as well as I do now, and though it seems strange to say, I would recommend that everyone should go through a similar experience.  I know I gained so much in the end.  


And this is where physical exercise became my salvation.


I had my last tablet in April 1973.  And then I vowed and declared I would never be sick or out of control again and to do that I initially I had to face my demons and I certainly needed to work out my priorities.


I was claustrophobic due to my childhood experiences and treatments so I started to play squash.  It was a confined area and I wanted to be able to get my mind and body back into a healthy frame of mind. 


Because I injured my shoulder at squash (I played for 10 years), I decided to give my arm a rest and took up swimming.  I ‘followed the black line’ and eventually said to the Osteopath, “I am sick of following that black line, what sport do you think I would be able to cope with”.  Well, she said suggested water polo. 


So after doing that for 10 years my son said, “You used to ride a bike up at Forster, and you swim, why don’t you take up triathlons!”   It was a sport that was just taking off at that time 1988 – 89. 


I could not run from one telegraph post to the other and I thought ‘this is a bit of a challenge’.  

I like a challenge and I knew I was fairly fit from my swimming and one thing and another, so I gradually extended my running from one telegraph to another until I could run up to ten kilometres.   

That enabled me to go into 1989 Olympic distances triathlon which included a 1 kilometre swim;  a 40 kilometre cycle and a 10 kilometre run all within two hours.  I qualified as aged group Australian Representative up until I retired in 1997 aged 57 years.  


Gigi:  What did you think about when you were running?


Kay:  I love being outside in the elements.  You see the different seasons of the trees, you know, you have spring and the tips of the leaves and flower buds are coming up and then the next week you run by and they are out.  It wouldn’t worry me if it was raining or in the winter, I would get up every morning even though it was cold.  You know, I just enjoyed being outside.


Gigi:  So it was more an outward thing – you were more about observing the environment!


Kay:  Initially yes, and even today I enjoy running outside in the elements.   When I was training I was thinking about putting one foot in front of the other but eventually I became more relaxed and confident.   


I really feel you have got to have positive thinking and a very good example of that is when I was extending the length of my runs by a block.  I would try and get further by forcing myself to run to the next driveway, and then to the next driveway.  On one particular hill, the best I could do was about halfway up and I said to myself, ‘if you don’t do it this morning you got to run around the block again’.   


I managed to run the whole way up the hill and then I ran it from there on which was a defining moment for me. 


Gigi:  So you put these little dares to yourself?


Kay:  Challenges!   I would say ‘I want to get to the top of that hill’, so I would just imagine or visualise myself over the crest of the hill and that is the way I would get there.


So it is all about the mind and willing yourself.  This whole “Granny Kay” concept came from though, what I would call a spiritual experience.


Gigi:  Tell me more.  I would love to know about that?


Kay:  We had been retired for ten years and we moved up the coast from Sydney where we live on a 5 acre farm 8 mins from coast and I just love it here.  


We decided to buy a caravan to travel around Australia.  This particular trip we were travelling with a group of friends down in the high country.  To keep fit I would go out for half an hour every morning which would give me a good feel for the town. 

This particular morning I was coming back to the van and I had an urge so strong that it said to keep running.  The urge said I must run around track that ran around the Lake.  


I like to run in the early morning and on this day the dew was on the path and the track was still wet.  I can still feel the wet grass on my legs and watching the mist lift off the water.  The sun rays were just coming over the hill and I can still picture it all clearly to this day.  


It was then that I felt myself in a warm yellow triangle.


It was such a beautiful morning and as I ran I was thinking ‘aren’t I lucky to be able to do this’.  Then I thought of mum who by this stage had been living in Nursing Home for many years.  I kept thinking ‘aren’t I so lucky and fortunate to be able to do this’   and yet there was poor mum unable to do anything for herself.  I thought ‘How can I help mum?  What could I possibly do for her?’   


I thought about the fact that I could run out into the open.  I wondered “How can this be of help!” as it seemed a shame not to put this ability to good use and not to help others.  To give something back so to speak. 


And then the idea Run for Charity hit me like a thunderbolt.  

I thought ‘which charity should I choose?’ and I decided it would be the Ageing and Alzheimer’s Research Foundation because of mums position and of course others in the same boat.


At that moment, I thought “Yes I can do it”.


I wasn’t game to tell anybody for about four days and my mind was just bursting and tingling because I had this secret and I just wanted to blurt it out.  And I thought if I tell someone it will go away, as things often do. 


Eventually I decided to tell a friend who happened, as it turned out to be president of the Kincumber Rotary Club.  He said that Rotary would support me and then, when more and more people found out about my idea it really sunk in and I thought ‘It really looks like I will have to go through with this now!’.


Thus ‘Granny Kay 100 k Charity Run” was conceived and I had absolutely no doubt that I could do it. The feeling of confidence was just there, and I strongly believed it was something I was meant to do, that I had to do.


The only thing was, the distance I could run at that point was 10 kilometres and I needed to be able to cover 100 kilometres.   My trainer put a very successful program for me and I did it.


Gigi:  Do you suffer any ill effects from all the running?


Kay:  No.  When I first decided to do the long runs, 100 kilometres.  My coach, Barry said ‘if you want to do it tomorrow you can do it’  because I had been competing in triathlons for 10 years and we knew I could run ten kilometres.  My heart rate was a healthy resting 43.


He said ‘we will do it properly’ and he gave some programs to extend it from 10 kilometres to 100 kilometres so when the time came to complete the 100 kilometres, I did it very, very easily.


Once I started telling people about my idea and because I was looking for sponsors, so many people said “Kay that is a marvellous idea, how much can we give you”.

I had very strong support from my friends and it was a fantastic experience.   I
collected an incredible $34,000 which was donated to the Ageing and Alzheimer’s Foundation (AARF).  At the actual completion of that run the Director of AARF, Professor David Le Couteur, asked me if I would become a Patron of AARF.  That honour ‘blew me away” as did the subsequent establishment of a Kay Worrall Scholarship.

Gigi:  How long did it take you to run the 100 kilometres?


Kay:  The run was from Terrigal Surf club north of Sydney, to Concord Hospital.  I took two days to complete the run.  I ran 50 kilometres each day.  

 Gigi:  And then you did another run?


Kay:  Yes.  That was from Sydney to Parliament House in Canberra. It was 300 kilometres and I ran 40-50 kilometres a day.   It was also extremely successful but it was larger and harder to organise. 


Gigi:  Are you a religious person?


Kay:  Yes, in a sense.  I don’t go to church each week but I know I am very close to God or whatever that higher spiritual being is.   I know he looks after me and I am thankful for the privileged and comfortable life I live now.  Spiritual experiences, like the one I had, leave you tingling. 

You somehow know you can do anything, nothing fazes me now.


Gigi:  Do you think being fit and in control is the thing that defines you.


Kay:  Yes, with a good mind set you can get through anything.  Believe me I know.  At the time of my breakdown I felt embarrassed, but I feel comfortable with it now.  It was the experience that made me determined to keep myself healthy and have a positive attitude.


Gigi:  How old do you feel?


Kay:  Oh, I am 34 years of age (laughs) I haven’t grown up yet!!


Gigi:  That’s the key to it!


Kay:  Yes.  People take themselves too seriously and worry about what other people think of them.  I know some awful things happen in the world but I just love living life.


Gigi:  What are your hopes and plans for the future?  Do you have something major in mind or do you plan to go on in retirement bliss? (Laughs)


Kay:  To keep my husband happy I have just taken up golf.  Another challenge!  We go into mixed comp now which means we are doing something together. And of course we travel around in the caravan.

I would still love to do another run, maybe around Australia.  I have spoken to a few people about the possibility.  The life that I have had, and the life I lead now,  I just feel very thankful to be able to give something back.        


Gigi:  Do you feel content?


Kay:  I should feel content but I feel that there is something more that I would like to do, for others not for myself.  As I say, I really would love to do the run around Australia but I don’t think that is my husband’s idea of a dream retirement!! (Laughs)


Gigi:  Do you have any wise women advice?


Kay:  Do what makes you happy and if someone else benefits from it, all the better.


Gigi:  Do you have a favourite quote to share with us?


Kay:  “Never say never!”  or one that I really like at the moment,

“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”


Nothing is impossible if you go about it in the right way and organise it.  If you feel strongly enough, it is possible.


Gigi:    You have achieved so much by concentrating on living life.  And it appears one your greatest joy comes from being outside in the elements.


Kay:    Yes, I just love it.    Running keeps me fit and healthy. Also, giving back is what is important to me.  I don’t want anything for myself, but if I can do something where someone else can benefit then that is all I ask.  When I think back to the life my mum had, which was horrible, I think I am so fortunate now.


I know other people have done a lot more than I ever have, but at least I feel I have contributed a little bit. 

I realise it is a double edged sword, but it is great that others have benefited from my passion.


Gigi:  You are a fabulous woman Kay Worrall