Thelma's an inspiration


IT simply does not occur to Thelma Bryan, not to help others.
While the 86-year-old might have plenty on her own plate to deal with, she mentally puts that to one side to support other people.
The feisty swimmer and volunteer donates her skills as a yoga teacher once a week at the Cairns Hospital mental health unit, to help patients.
Cairns Hospital Mental Health Unit therapy assistant Jo Abbatangelo said Thelma has the gift of encouraging patients to believe in themselves.
“We have had many patients give us feedback over the years on how invaluable their experience of yoga was while at the hospital. Thelma works tirelessly each week to bring a sense of deep relaxation and wellbeing to patients on the wards,” Ms Abbatangelo said.
“I just do it because it’s so rewarding. They know that I have some health issues but they just accept me as I am. People tell me, or give me cards telling me that I’ve helped them relax when they were at a time in their life that they were experiencing grief and stress, so it’s wonderful to know that I’ve helped someone,” Mrs Bryan said.
Far North Queensland Hospital Foundation volunteer manager Anne Chirio said she loves to see the volunteers come in every day when they sign in and out. “Thelma always spares some time to have a chat when she comes in and she is a very familiar sight on her tricycle around the hospital,” Ms Chirio said.
Not only does Mrs Bryan donate her time, she donates her money as well. She recently donated another $1500 to the Foundation – bringing her and husband’s Mike’s contribution to more than $20,000. “It’s not the only group that we support, but we like to make a donation, knowing that the money stays here and really does help people,” Mrs Bryan said. “We like to support organisations that help society.”
In January 2017, Mrs Bryan will celebrate her 26th year of volunteering at Cairns Hospital.
As well, Mrs Bryan is a famous masters swimmer. In the 85-89 years age group last year, her 400m individual medley was ranked first in the World Top Ten 50m pool list, and her 100m and 200m butterfly both world seconds. To walk, she is limited by problems resulting from three hip replacements on the left and two on the right. But the weightless sensation of swimming gives her free movement in the pool.
She also has been involved in swims to raise funds to support others with health conditions – a memorable one being her four kilometres last year for Motor Neurone Disease
Mrs Bryan is one of those super-inspiring people who might have their own issues in life to contend with, but she insists on getting on with the job.
She has a pacemaker, emphysema, and macular degeneration. She is the carer for her husband, who has a neurological condition.
“We didn’t have any children so we just look after each other,” she says.
Neither drive a car anymore, but both have nifty battery-operated tricycles for Thelma to get around and do their day-to-day jobs. However, Michael is no longer well enough to leave their retirement village.
She laughs when she recalls talking to her cardiologist just before her pacemaker was installed.
“Here I was, this little old lady with white hair peering at him from beneath the sheet and I asked him if I’d still be able to do butterfly after the surgery – that was what was important to me.”
In her working life, Mrs Bryan was a secondary school teacher for about 35 years – initially in England, then in Nigeria where she married Mike and spent more than 12 years’ at a residential boys’ secondary school, and then in Australia in 1972. Here in Cairns, she spent 16 years teaching at Cairns High School.

Photo: Thelma Bryan, taken in Townsville 2015 at the masters swimming state titles. Winning all her nine allowed events, she broke seven national age group records and nine Queensland records.


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