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An octogenarian former Wallaby is staking a strong claim as Australia’s oldest personal trainer as he whips senior citizens into shape in regular fitness classes.

Long after his successful rugby career, John “Sparrow” Dowse is helping firm up ageing muscles and bones in 14 weekly strength training circuits tailored to the physical needs of his vintage charges.

The one-time goal kicking ace converted his past sporting prowess into a new life as a fitness coach when his daughter enrolled him in a personal training course for his 70th birthday – a gift he credits for keeping him “out of the pub”.

With a sense of humour matched only by his zest for life, Mr Dowse, who played four games for the Wallabies in the early 1960s, now puts mature City residents through entertaining circuit workouts using light weights at the City of Sydney’s Pyrmont Community Centre.

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His team say his classes are good for their health and social life, improving their mobility, strength, coordination and giving them a general feeling of wellbeing.

Dubbed “Sparrow” by a teacher frustrated with his restlessness long ago at Knox Grammar School on Sydney’s north shore, the fully qualified personal trainer hopes more people his age group will embrace personal fitness.

“We concentrate on improving posture and do a lot of squats and push ups,” Mr Dowse said.

“It’s a tremendous social thing too because it gets people out and about and interacting. Pilates and yoga-style classes don’t necessarily keep people coming back, but these circuits do because they’re a lot of fun. We have people coming in aged from 55-90.

“There’s a lot more scope for this kind of thing for other older people across the city.”

Retiree Margaret Teague has been “working out with Sparrow” since 2007.

Ms Teague, 68, followed him to Pyrmont from the University of Sydney, where Mr Dowse’s sporting career began more than 60 years ago and where he now also runs fitness classes.

“Sparrow’s system and his character keep me coming back,” Mrs Teague said.

“His workouts are quite exacting and there are some great exercises for women.”

Sprightly Ultimo artist Ian Kingsford-Smith, 69, is another of Mr Dowse’s charges.

“It’s just a matter of getting exercise that you would not normally get by cycling or walking,” Mr Kingsford-Smith said. “Just by doing a little bit of weights with the dumbbells, you get a little more strength, and it’s very enjoyable.”

As well as Mr Dowse’s popular classes, the Pyrmont Community Centre offers a range of activities for older adults, including Zumba Gold, line dancing, knitting, choir, Scrabble, art groups for women, photography and community dinners.

“Sparrow’s story is an inspiring one for all senior citizens and especially those who attend his classes,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

“The City is encouraging residents, workers and visitors to exercise more by building new fitness facilities, installing more exercise stations in local parks, and providing free and low-cost programs at our aquatic and recreation centres.

“It’s great to see classes like these connecting older people. We have a very diverse community in the City and it’s just great to see a charismatic fellow come along and get people doing such a positive thing together.”
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