Captain Tom

This week saw the passing of Captain Sir Tom Moore, aged 100. For those not from the UK and therefore perhaps unfamiliar, Captain Tom as he affectionally became known last year, was a British Army officer who in the run up to his 100th birthday at the start of the Covid 19 Pandemic raised £32 million for the NHS by walking 100 lengths of his garden. He was later knighted for his efforts.

Now in terms of fitness and health, which this blog essentially is about, that’s a feat in itself. Walking can of course be an excellent form of exercise and to be able to achieve such a feat at 100 and using a walking frame after a hip replacement is a remarkable testament to his health. Of course it will have been challenging and his determination to complete this for a cause he cared about is similar to the people who push themselves through marathon and the like to raise money for causes which they care dearly about.

He, however, played down his achievement, it always seemed to me he had just wanted to help, in whatever way he could, an institution he saw the value in. There was plenty of discourse about this at the time. Whilst I don’t think there was anyone who did not admire the man, there were questions about why we needed a 100 year old man to do laps of his garden to fund the NHS and the moral compass of a government that used his achievement as a moral booster when they themselves had so frequently failed the NHS themselves. The one thing nobody ever questioned was his reason for doing it in the first place, his belief in the value of the NHS.

Now most of us really know the value of the NHS. We’ve heard of the cost of health insurance and health care in other countries. Captain Tom was probably more aware of this than most though. He and his generation are probably now the only British people to fully understand the value of the NHS. To me and you the concept of not being able to phone the doctor because we cannot afford it is a dystopian film plot, an abstract idea. In fact to anyone under the age of 72 it is.

The NHS was founded on 5th July 1948. Captain Tom was born in 1920, for most of his young life he did not have automatic access to free health care. He was born towards the end of another Pandemic, The Spanish Flu, a flu which could not be managed in the same way because, amongst other things, the lack of centralisation the NHS brings did not exist. At this time if you were ill the care you received depended on you wealth, your geographical location and often on access to local charitable organisations and your local community.

I can’t just assume that had an impact on how he valued the NHS, but I think it must be easier to truly value something when you’ve known the alternative. When we don’t know any different it’s harder to really appreciate what we actually do have access to, harder not to just assume that will always be the case or that everyone has access to what we have. For me I think that’s one of the best things to take from Captain Tom’s achievement because it can apply to all aspects of life. We can use our experiences to learn what matters to us and what we really value and what we know we want to work to keep / maintain.

To draw this back to fitness and health. Right now I know a lot of people struggling, be it weight gain, loss of fitness or strength because of lockdown. It feels harder that you can’t go to the gym or a class or participate in races because you know different- you’re aware of what was and how this is different. It’s kind of the situation in reverse to the NHS because it’s from positive experience to negative, but you appreciate the gyms and the classes and the opportunities to move so much more now than you ever did at the time because you’ve experienced the alternative. We cannot control this right now (to the extent we factually cannot go to a gym) but we can fight for the industry, help campaign to get fitness recognised as an important component to the heath of the nation and commit to supporting the industry when it can fully reopen. If Captain Tom taught us anything it’s if something is important to you taken action, even if it’s a tiny gesture, as small actions can have a massive impact.

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