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Welcome to Coffee with a Coastie. We had the great pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Central Coast local John Wall. At 76 he is faster and fitter than most of us are at any age. I hope you are as inspired as I am by John’s story as he returned to athletics later in life and went on to become the fastest human in the world for his age at 62. John wants nothing more than to inspire both young and old through his story and to promote the benefits of exercise and keeping a young mind.
You were senior athletics champion at school. Though your athletics career was cut short when you became unwell with tuberculosis. After recovering you didn’t return to athletics and instead worked in the film industry. How did you end up in the film industry?
When I was in the army I looked after all the weapons for an action movie. It was when I was around 19 years old in China, on a trampoline in a gym and a gentleman came in and said, hey, do you mind if I have a go on the trampoline? I’m looking at this slightly older guy thinking to myself you gotta be careful. He then got up and did these amazing things. He did somersaults, he did everything. I was gobsmacked. I introduced myself and he said he was in China making a movie. I mentioned I spoke fluent Chinese and asked if I could be of assistance and that catapulted me into mainstream film with 20th Century Fox.
You worked with some big names in the film industry, who was most memorable?
Probably two people that I worked with on a 20th Century Fox movie called The Sand Pebbles, Steve McQueen who was the primary star and Candice Bergen, who was the female lead. She became pretty famous, but when I was working with her, she was 18 and it was virtually her second movie that she had ever done and Steve was an amazing guy. He was sort of a hero of my day. I used to watch him in movies like The Great Escape and all sorts of different films.
How many years was it before you returned to the track later in life.
I returned to the track when I was 50 and I left it when I was 23. So 27 years.
You then went on to become the fastest human in the world for your age at 62 running 100m in 11.97sec. Now at the age of 76 you hold 3 world records for your age group. What are these current records.
I’m still ranked as the fastest human being in the world for the 75 age group in the 60m, 100m and 200m run.
You say we can keep healthy, as an aging demographic, by doing the simple things. What are these simple things?
If you are physically capable, though have never done anything before, go for a walk for an hour. You don’t need to run along and pound the pavements even if you’re capable of doing that, because that can create extreme loading through the joints, knees, ankles, hips? Yes, I train at the gym. Though for many you just want to maintain your health later in life. Because our bodies have to carry us on this journey. However long that journey is.
You say we need to stay young in our minds and in everything we do. What do you think and do to stay young at 76?
I try to motivate myself and connect with the youthful energy that is everywhere. I like to recognize that there is a joy to life. There is a joy in looking at our grandchildren. Playing carpet bowls at the local community centre or doing simple Tai Chi exercises. There is a joy in all these things, search them out. Search out people who are positive minded, search out people who’ve got an energy for life, search out people who are going to give you a reason to live a happy and joyful life.
In a previous conversation you said you feel the most powerful word one can say is ‘want’, when describing what they are looking to do in life. Can you talk a little about the word ‘want’?
I think the important thing is that there’s two words, like and want. What is the difference between those? Liking something is a very passive happy go lucky word. Gee I’d like to ride that horse. Whereas when you choose the word want in your self descriptive process, then you are saying to yourself, this is an action word. I want to ride that horse. So, I think that to like something is an emotionally empowering word, but the real strength comes from wanting it, because when you want it, you change the dynamic of what’s actually happening in your brain and that want then focuses the brain into achieving that goal.
Also in our previous conversation, I mentioned one of the reasons that I wanted to do these podcasts is to show myself, my kids and the community what is possible outside of each individuals current awareness, by sharing other people’s stories within the community. You then said I should really want to show people the impossible. Can you talk a little about this?
The impossibilities of life are not something that everybody thinks about. I feel it comes down to the wanting to be able to achieve the impossible. It is something that I think we need to not restrict ourselves by the limitation of possibility, but that we allow ourselves to open our minds to the impossible, because in the impossible lies the magic, in the impossible lies the crazy youthful, fun, and joy of doing something that’s never been done before. Is it impossible for you to say, I will do something a little bit different today to be able to achieve the impossible. Impossibilities are really possibilities that are just on the sidelines that we never think about.
My final question, what advice do you have for someone who did or didn’t do something when they were younger, and now later in life and they think they are too old or it’s too late to give it a go again or do it for the first time?
We tend to categorize somebody’s brilliance by the piece of paper that they’re able to engineer for themselves in a Scholastic environment. It’s not always the case. Sometimes you’ve gotta be somebody who rolls up their sleeves and gets out there and just does it and wants to achieve it. I say go for it and don’t be afraid. It’s a big world out there. And there’s millions of people that want to help you. If you just ask, don’t be afraid to ask for help.