Passionate gardeners, Nanette, 58, and her husband Michael spent most weekends outdoors on their beautiful bush property in Kinglake, Victoria. “We’ve always enjoyed a get-together with as many of our eight children and their partners and children as possible,” says Nanette. “That usually entails meat on the rotisserie with lots of vegetables and freshly baked bread, served with a large helping of laughter.”
On February 7, 2009, Nanette was home alone while Michael was away working in Queensland. It was a scorcher, but Nanette was prepared. “I knew it was going to be a bad day,” she recalls, “but our fire plan had worked beautifully three years earlier when a fire came within 500 metres of the house. The curtains were closed and I stayed inside, but I went to check if any plants in my beloved garden needed rescuing.”
Nanette’s beautiful backyard has been rebuilt post-Black Saturday. It now doubles as a running track!
Nothing could have prepared Nanette for the tsunami of flames that was rushing towards her home at breakneck speed. “They were so high,” she says. “I couldn’t see my neighbours’ houses and I was choking on smoke. I remember calling my husband, I remember saying goodbye. He told me to go to a friend’s – impossible. So he said to get to the school.”
Nanette put her cat in a cage and threw a woollen blanket over it, and then ran out to her blazing hot car with her dog Gromit. She drove into the flames and along the burning road to the school, where she worked in the library. She had to break in. Once inside, Nanette found 23 other people hiding from the bushfire. Thousands of kilometres away, Michael talked his terrified wife through how to use the school’s fire pump.
“My dear little Gromit waited inside the school while I was out with others putting out spot fires,” says Nanette. “When I came inside to rest, he clung to me, constantly seeking eye contact, which amazed me. Just after the fires, he developed a cough. His lungs were smoke-damaged.”
Sadly, Gromit didn’t survive, and Nanette and Michael’s beautiful garden was left in blackened ruins. “I felt I had let Gromit down by not protecting him. I still grieve for him terribly.”
After the horrific experience, Nanette struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and sought counselling. “I sadly can’t remember most of 2008 and the beginning of 2009,” she says. “A beautiful granddaughter, Penelope, was born three weeks before the fire and I don’t remember that at all.”
Turning the Page…
Nanette with her colleague, and 12WBT teammate, Bronwen completing a12WBT Push Up Challenge.
“One day, a book by Michelle Bridges appeared in the library and caught my eye,” says Nanette. “Then my colleague Bronwen mentioned that her friend had lost 13kg in the 12WBT online program. We took the plunge and joined.”
Because of her intolerance to lecithin, Nanette had always eaten very clean foods, avoiding additives and making her own bread and yoghurt. But besides her gardening, she’d never been active. “I’d done short spasms of gymnasium things when I was a young mum, but I’d never run a step. I remember the first run we had to do with 12WBT… I ran 12 steps and thought I was going to have a coronary!”
Nanette and husband Michael at a 12WBT Finale Party.
That first 12WBT was tough for Nanette as she worked her way out of her comfort zone, but she’d made a promise. “I knew Bronwen was getting up at five in the morning to do her exercise,” says Nanette. “There was no way that I could not support her by not getting up. That kept me going.”
At work, they’d talk about which exercises they’d enjoyed (or not) over the weekend. “We planned the gaps between Rounds and had a supply of DVDs to get through wet days. We supported and encouraged each other.” As Nanette and Bronwen signed up for Round after Round, pretty soon their other colleagues were signing up too.
When Nanette began an unexpected love affair with running, Michael was there for her. “My husband is my support crew. He’s held the torch on many a cold, dark run and has massaged all the sore spots after a workout. He’s fit and healthy, having just turned 60, and is always willing and keen to run 10 kilometres with me. I’m very proud of him. Now we’ve got another activity we can really enjoy together into our old age.”
Onward and Upward
Nanette victorious as she completes her first ever fun run at the age of 58.
Nanette recently signed up for her seventh round of 12WBT. “It started off as a weight-loss thing. I had 16 kilos to lose and I did that. But then I realised it was a lot more – it was a complete lifestyle change. We even did a Michelle Bridges Christmas dinner last year!”
She’s now feeling better in every way. “I expected an improvement in my mental health, but I was astounded at the difference that 12WBT made. The program gave me a resilience that I’d lost on Black Saturday, and it’s giving me the skills to build on that resilience all the time. There are still some shadows in there, but the strength is starting to come back. And that amazed me. I didn’t expect that.”
Nanette and Bronwen at the 12WBT Finale Party in Melbourne in May 2013.
This grandma’s next health goal is to run a half marathon. “I might wait and do it for my 60th birthday in January 2015. Until then, I just want to be consistent and enjoy being able to easily zip up a size 10 skirt!”
Nanette’s Top 12WBT Tips
- You’re a lot stronger than you think you are.
- As Michelle says, it’s about consistency, consistency, consistency. Just keep plodding along. Don’t let yourself get knocked if you miss a day – just get back on and keep going. It’s worth it.
- It’s amazing how much your headspace makes the difference. If you have a positive attitude, it’s amazing what you can achieve.