Heartfelt Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge

December 7, 2011


“Swaying pine trees, brutal wind gusts… put 9000 cyclists to the test in the annual Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge event…. Strong wind gusts made riding treacherous for road and mountainbike riders in the 35th annual 160-kilometre lake circuit on Saturday. Large pine trees swayed precariously in 85kmh wind gusts. Cyclists, pedalling into energy-sapping headwinds, negotiated scattered branches and debris…”  Dom.Post 28/11/11* 

This time last week I was a tortoise on two wheels- definitely not a hare- in the 35th Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge. At least I didn’t turn turtle in the blustery conditions. Quite a few entrants didn’t even start.

After a 6am start in the slow pack, my time of 9 hrs 46:57 in the 60-69 years solo 160 k division (I just qualified-it was the day before my 70th birthday) put me 328th in the division but, apart from the timing equipment, who’s counting? It was great just to finish again in the conditions, described as “one of the more difficult rides on record”, in reasonable condition. Three months after my last Taupo outing in 2008, I had two stents inserted after a coronary.  

 New Gear

My previous three Taupo rides since 2006, once in the 40K relay and twice in the 160k solo ride, were on my old second hand road touring bike which I bought off a departing Swedish cycle tourist who wasn’t murdered in 1991. It came complete with four panier bags for camping gear.

For three years I was the only Taupo entrant with paniers and a rear vision mirror. Bikes are built either for speed or for comfort and mine was in the latter category, unlike the emasculatory razor seated road bikes that are de rigueur.

This year was different. My Canadian mate Gord Miller, doing the Solo Challenge at Taupo for the second time, has tried for years  to convince me to get a more suitable steed for the event. It was my daughter Sandra who applied the killer psychology. She has an Events and PR company and does the public relations for the Pure Black Cycling Team*

First she got me some sporty PB riding gear. Then she persuaded me to get a sleek carbon fibre Cadent* bike from Avanti, Pure Black sponsor, to match the outfit. It’s  a speedy machine with a slightly ‘softer’ attitude for riders who want something a little more relaxed. It made all the difference, especially with the wind, and the Geltech cover over the original seat was almost comfortable.

I did also add a snappy Vaude clip on under the seat detachable carry bag. I like to be self sufficient and carry more food and water, extra clothes and tools than most, despite the support stations en route, though stories about an on board kitchen sink are calumnies.

Pure Black riders were 1st and 2nd over the line. I was 4236th  overall so they were probably pleased I wore a high viz. vest over my sporty PB  racing shirt. 

I was also helped this year on the nutrition front by Shane Miller, Gord’s son, a gym instructor and high performance coach from Ottawa. Last time I cramped up 10 times on Hatepe Hill at the 132 k mark. This time nary a twinge after a good balance of protein and pasta and several magic potions during the ride. None would have got Lance Armstrong into trouble.

My father Gordon Lukey was a well known long distance cyclist and endurance record holder and all round iron man in the days of gravel roads and no gears. He would have been amused at the hi tech nature of cycle riding today and the fancy fashion and food but he would have applauded the numbers participating.

Life cycle

The biblical age is a bit hard to come to grips with, though these days maybe it’s only mature middle age, at least for the fortunate survivors thus far. The big 70 is inevitably accompanied by a bit of philosophical introspection.

The old black joke is ”A fatal coronary is nature’s way of saying ‘slow down’. Sadly, just a few weeks ago the old friend I usually stay with when doing Taupo died suddenly while still in top gear in a top corporate job with lots of demanding overseas travel. Earlier in the year he put off accompanying his sister on a cycle tour of France because of the demands of the business.

Only three weeks ago, on a Rotary cricket tour of NSW- (geriatrics in pursuit of hattricks-or even a single wicket) – the player in our opponents’ team in the third game, who had just received Man of the Match award, collapsed and died. Sad, but what a way to go.

It’s important to keep doing things you like to do or that provide new challenges while you can. Always at my back I hear times winged chariot…

Supporting Heart Kids

Heart Kids 2011

Thanks to those who supported my Heart Kids web page as part of the Taupo Challenge. Overall $57,000 has been raised to date this year-donations open until 31 December-see my HK webpage below*. Alternatively you can txt HEART to 2427 to make a $3 donation.

#Lyall Lukey 3 December 2011
http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz
https://bluggerme.wordpress.com  My other less serious blog


Older Neurons: Hi-Ho Silver Lining

July 11, 2010

“Keeping active can increase your brain power.  Scientists have discovered that the human brain can improve with advancing years, dispelling the common belief that a person’s mental faculties peak in their twenties.”  Steven Swinford and Richard Kerbaj*

Even if some of us are  still not  sure what we’re going to do when we grow up, many of us more mature people are a bit apprehensive about the possible onset of the dreaded Mental Brewer’s Droop in its various manifestations, from minor short-term memory loss to the big A.  (Don’t forget that next week is Alzheimers Awareness and Appeal Week*).   

But it seems that while short-term memory may, in fact, decline with old age, long-term memory in most people remains unaffected and a person’s vocabulary, emotional intelligence and social skills may all get better.

In their recent article Brain Power Peaks In The Silver Set * Swinford and Kerbaj pulled together an interesting synthesis of recent studies which are part of a wider reappraisal of research into intelligence that began several years ago and which “has overturned the notion that intelligence peaks in the late twenties, prompting a long, slow and inevitable decline.”*

Older people are able to retain and hone an effective a range of skills. Until now some in the more mature ranks have been more concerned with dandruff than dentrites, but it appears that expert knowledge is stored in brain cells known as dendritic spines which  seem to be protected against ageing by a metaphorical silver lining.

When it comes to decision making, it also turns out that older people are more likely to be rational than young people because their brains are less susceptible to surges of dopamine, the feelgood hormone that can lead to impulsive reactions and dopey decisions. Despite slower brain speed, older people apparently solve problems more efficiently, drawing on “cognitive templates” of how they resolved similar problems in the past. The key is the process for problem solving not the content of the answer.

We know that top sports people are considered over the hill in their mid-30s but many of the most influential people in politics, business, law, literature and science are in their late fifties and sixties or older. Management gurus W. Edwards Deming and Peter Drucker were both still lecturing in their mid-90s.

Not only changing demographic patterns but also the loss of significant cognitive resources have led to demands for the retirement age to be lifted in some professions in the UK.

 New Zealand no longer has an obligatory retirement age, though age 65, when national superannuation kicks in, has become the target retirement age for many New Zealanders,  but an increasing number are staying on in the work force, not necessarily because they have to but because they want to. However, the older and more experienced often struggle to hold on to their present positions, let alone gain new ones.  

The ageist struggle starts more than two decades earlier for executive aspirants. Over the years there have been different  invisible barriers in respect to senior management jobs. First the class ceiling, which kept out those from the wrong side of the school tracks; then the glass ceiling, which kept out women. Now it’s the crass ceiling which favours the young and brash at the expense of the mature and experienced.  In the light of the findings above, this is waste management.

My view is that “retirement” should be spelt “retyrement” and it  should be about finding new ways of getting traction for one’s distilled experience and knowledge in a society which  is data and information rich but knowledge and wisdom poor.

We’ve heard a lot about Generations X and Y. Let’s now hear it for Generation S-the  65+years old silver set. Those of us in this age bracket are in our element: just as silver is precious, with the highest electrical conductivity of any metal,  the new research demonstrates that  silver-lined neurons are pretty good at conducting the impulses which are the functional units of the nervous system. With the right physical and mental exercise,  neurons can be kept in better nick at later life passages for more people than hitherto thought.

A sad minority have real problems. In 2008 about 40,000 Kiwis, or about 1% of the population, sufferered from dementia.  With demographic changes, this number is predicted to rise by 400% by mid century.

But pre-shroud every cloud  has a silver lining. Synonyms for silver include bright, lustrous, resplendent and sterling.  Most members of Generation S are capable of rendering sterling service if they keep their knowledge and skills polished.

Switched on Neuron

 Let’s go on the attack and claim back the feel good 60s song Hi-Ho Silver Lining back from English football clubs like Everton who, after England’s World Cup performance, deserve a song with a much whiter shade of pale and make it the anthem of a resplendent Silver Generation.

Hi-Ho Silver Lining*  (Scott English / Larry Weiss)
You're everywhere and nowhere, baby,
That's where you're at
Going down the bumpy hillside in your hippie hat
Flying across the country and getting fat
Saying everything is groovy
When your tires are flat     
And it's hi-ho silver lining
Anywhere you go now, baby
I see your sun is shining but I will make a fuss
Though it's obvious
Flies are in your pea soup, baby  
They're waving at me
Anything you want is yours now,
Only nothing's for free
Life's a-gonna get you someday,
Just wait and see
So put up your beach umbrella
While you're watching TV
And it's hi-ho silver lining
Anywhere you go, well, baby
I see your sun is shining but I will make a fuss
Though it's obvious

Brain power peaks in the silver set Steven Swinford and Richard Kerbaj  Sunday Times  27 June 2010 www.alzheimers.org.nz   For information and to donate
http://themindperspective.files.wordpress.com     Neuron visual etc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DD7KkJopku8  Hi-Ho Silver Lining- first released as a single in March 1967 by The Attack and a few days later by Jeff Beck  Vid
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYPoRFRhVzE&feature=related  -Everton Fans at  Wembley Singing Hi-Ho Silver Lining  Vid
Send “Hi Ho Silver Lining” Ringtone to your Cell

 #Lyall Lukey11 July 2010
http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz
https://bluggerme.wordpress.com  My other blog

A Wake Up Call not a Wake

July 19, 2009

“He was bitter and tearful, but he took the news that he was going to die calmly…” Isabel Collins

When they told me I had not had cancer, it knocked me off balance.  Now I cannot do anything.”  Philip Collins

Ordinary influenza, perhaps, or maybe even Swine Flu, but the dreaded big C is not the diagnosis we want to hear when we have lost our appetite. We’re very likely to lose our savoir-faire as well as our avoirdupois. 

When Englishman Philip Collins was told two years ago that he had gall bladder cancer and had only six months to live he chucked his job in, cashed up his pension and bought himself a Triumph motorcycle so he could enjoy the time he had left to him and try some new experiences. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article6716736.ece

When, a year later, living on what he thought was borrowed time, he got the galling news that the “inoperable tumour” was actually a somewhat less than fatal abscess in his gall bladder, he was thrown totally off balance. He had been prepared to die, and had planned his own funeral, which was to feature his new motorcycle as hearse.  Having reconciled himself to his early departure from this mortal coil he now had to totally re-readjust to the prospect of staying on it for sometime.

Now he has trouble preparing to live. He had bought his impending widow a Ford Focus. Focus is exactly what he is now having difficulty with. Welcome back Phil to the real world.

The ability to focus is one of the most important self-management skills. It enables us to realise dreams and achieve the goals.  Life events-or non-events-can cause us to lose our focus as if a stone had shattered the telescope we had so carefully calibrated to peer through.

Winning the Big Wednesday lottery-or watching the roulette wheel spin and your ball teetering on the edge of dropping into  a number somewhat less than three score and 10-rather knocks  the tripod off balance.

On the other hand, if they are not too overwhelming, some live or death events can sharpen the focus and help plot a new life passage.

In that category I’d place my recent coronary. Because the whole thing was out of the blue and the operation to stent open my two blocked coronary arteries was over within 5 hours of the diagnosed heart attack, I had little time for any real fear and indeed was an interested, if concerned, spectator of my own serious but only discomforting  medical episode (the angioplasty procedure is done while you are awake, the better to monitor the arterial drain unblocking process.)

Others, with more time to ponder gloomy news, have much more of a challenge. We know the power of aboriginal bone pointing. How many people, who have had the Western witch doctor point the mortality bone at them, have obligingly and obediently  proceeded to die within the allotted span of time?

Not Phil Collins.  Now he is very much alive he is suing the National Health Service. His real crisis now is an existentialist one-the transition from an impending wake to a surprise wake up call. Now he has the quotidian challenge of just staying alive.


Take the (free) How long have I got quiz http://www.thedeathquiz.com/?nz

Get some irreverent terminal advice:  George Carlin – On Death And Dying 

Listen to the other Phil Collins’ timely reminders:   another day in paradise

Cheer up with the Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive (Full Version)

Lyall Lukey 19 July 2009   www.lukey.co.nz

A heart stopping moment

May 3, 2009

“A fatal coronary is nature’s way of telling you to slow down”.

 My father died suddenly at age 68, from a heart attack, a medical book of symptoms open beside him. He hadn’t managed to summon any help. When I had a slightly tight feeling in my chest last Sunday before embarking on a bike ride I put it down to a possible chest infection and pedalled more slowly.  I should have known better.

Before dawn three days later, when I had more pronounced chest tightness plus a bit of indigestion -discomfort not pain- I was on the verge of dialling for a medical opinion or even an ambulance but the symptoms subsided so I left my call to the doctor and a subsequent visit until later in the morning. One just-in- time enzyme test  later, which indicated some possible heart damage , and I was on my way to hospital by ambulance, feeling that my doctor was being overcautious and that if I were to have some tests just to be on the safe side, I was quite capable of driving myself the short distance. My doctor, who disagreed, was, of course, spot on.

Now in my 68th year I was conscious of, but not overly concerned about, coronary illness risk factors. After all, you can’t change some factors such as age and gender and hereditary. Sure, you can do something about diet, lifestyle, stress, smoking and fitness, but I had given up smoking 30 years ago, my blood pressure was good and while my cholesterol rates were a little elevated,  I thought that for my age I was pretty fit. Sure, I was a bit slower in last year’s 160 km Taupo Cycle Challenge than the year before, but I put that down to the hotter day.

 It now turns out that 70% of the main artery to the front chamber of my heart was blocked and four days ago a blood clot bunged up what was remaining. Nothing dramatic, no great chest pains, but I was in the throes of a serious heart attack.

 The treatment at Christchurch Public Hospital was first-class both in terms of the excellent medical team and the top class technology as well as the useful and timely post-operative pre-rehabilitation advice and information.  In the space of  four hours there was a  well handled triage process, a battery of tests and quick decision making,  followed by an angiogram and an angioplasty procedure plus two stents to let the bloodflow and again and I was back in the coronary care unit having a cup of tea and a sandwich. Two days later I was home, clutching a large cache of chemicals,  most of which I will need to stay on for the rest of my life.  The DIY pharmacopoeia of drugs is a small price to pay fiscally and figuratively.

 Most people are aware (though many not so the time) that President Franklin Roosevelt was a polio sufferer; fewer know that he had very high blood pressure, which his doctors could do nothing about. They had to stand on the sidelines and watch one of the most important people in the world die before World War II was finished.

 65 years later we have access to marvellous surgical and medical treatment to extend our life spans and improve our quality of life.  If we make the first call in time.

Intellect, experience and motivation

April 22, 2009

  “At 100, I have a mind that is superior – thanks to experience – than when I was 20…”     Rita Levi-Montalcini,  b. 22 April 1909 

Italian neurologist Rita Levi-Montalcini, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986 when in her late 70s, turned 100 today. She shared the Nobel Prize with American Stanley Cohen for discovering mechanisms that regulate the growth of cells and organs.

She must have internalised the knowledge: at a ceremony held in her honor by the European Brain Research Institute last Saturday she said that her mind is sharper than it was she when she was 20.    

She also said “Above all, don’t fear difficult moments-the best comes from them.” She has had plenty of those during her long lifetime.

Turin-born Levi-Montalcini almost never made it to University. She had decided to go to medical school after seeing a close family friend die of cancer. In her 1988 autobiography In Praise of Imperfection: My Life and Work  she recounts how her father opposed tertiary studies for his daughters.He loved us dearly and had a great respect for women, but he believed that a professional career would interfere with the duties of a wife and mother. He therefore decided that the three of us – Anna, Paola and I – would not engage in studies which open the way to a professional career and that we would not enroll in the University.”  http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1986/levi-montalcini-autobio.html

She realised that she could not possibly adjust to a feminine role as conceived by her father and gained his permission to engage in a professional career. In eight months she filled her gaps in Latin, Greek and mathematics, graduated from high school, and entered medical school in Turin from which she graduated in 1936 with a summa cum laude degree in Medicine and Surgery.

She enrolled in the three year specialization in neurology and psychiatry, still uncertain whether she should devote herself fully to the medical profession or pursue at the same time basic research in neurology. Her perplexity was not to last too long. The anti-Jewish laws of the 1930s under Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime forced her to quit university and do research in an improvised laboratory in her bedroom at home. She conducted experiments from a home laboratory, studying the growth of nerve fibres in chicken embryos, which laid the groundwork for much of her later research.

Starting  just after the war finished she  spent 30 years at Washington University in St. Louis where she did her most important work: isolating the nerve growth factor (NGF) from observations of certain cancerous tissues that cause extremely rapid growth of nerve cells in 1952. In 1962 she established a Neurobiology research unit in Rome, dividing the rest of her time between there and St. Louis. 

Her life’s work laid important foundations for answers to modern questions. Do we lose brain cells as we get older? Are we destined to lose our faculties as we age?  Some studies suggest that physical exercise keeps brains healthy.  There is also research that suggests that we can keep our brains working well by using them regularly. 

At 100 not out Rita Levi-Montalcini is living testimony to the power of an active brain and an active life, imperfect though it may have been in her own rigorous terms. She is currently the oldest living and the longest-lived Nobel laureate and is still adding new chapters to her life. She actively takes part in the Upper House discussions in the Italian Senate unless busy in academic activities around the world.

Ironically, in the last four years she has become the target of some young Italian bloggers because of her age and ethnicity.  However, her intellect and her experience are more than adequate defences to the offensive comments of the digerati.

Happy birthday Rita.

Money Transfusion Fraud: How healthy is the health system?

December 22, 2008

It’s hard to believe but almost $17 million was siphoned off from the Otago District Health Board between 2000 and 2006 into the coffers of a company which no Board officials even knew existed (see NBR).

This was the financial equivalent of having a patient hooked up to a blood transfusion system in a public hospital ward for six years without a doctor or a nurse stopping even once to check on progress.

Michael Swan, the leading fraudster, pulled a six figure annual salary from the ODHB as IT supremo and much more from the fraud. No one in authority appeared to raise an eyebrow when he swanned in and parked his late-model Lamborghini, one of his 30 cars, next to the Board’s rather more modest Toyota Corollas.

The fact that he and his partner in crime Kerry Harford could keep the drip feed money transfusion going so long raises questions not just about the board in question but the whole health system, with its 23 district health boards in a country with the population of Melbourne.

It also raises the question of money spent on IT general. Public sector IT in-house projects, from the failed Police INCIS project in the 1990s to other more recent botch ups, do not fall in the fraud category. They are instead financial large black holes into which taxpayers money is unaccountably bulldozed with the best of intentions and often the worst of outcomes because of poor conceptualisation or weak implementation.

There are huge governance and management issues to do with public sector IT projects, especially the greenfields variety. These are exacerbated by the increasing rate of change and the lack of digital literacy displayed by many board members whether elected or appointed. This is a far from healthy state of affairs in the health system and elsewhere in the public service.