Major heart surgery at 57 saved Pauline Godber’s life, and now the 63-year-old grandmother of six says basketball has given her a new lease on life.

Born with aortic stenosis, a heart condition that constantly left her breathless and drained of energy, Pauline never knew the joy of playing sport. Now she can’t imagine life without it.

Pauline is a regular participant in the ACT’s Walking Basketball program, held twice a week to encourage over 50s to stay active and socially connected.

“This is the first group sport I’ve ever played,” Pauline says. “I love it, I live for it, I dream about it, I can’t wait for Tuesdays and Thursdays. The more I’m at the basketball courts, the happier I am. It’s a wonderful game.”

One of six children growing up on a farm outside Canberra, Pauline’s heart condition had prevented her from playing sport her entire life. She could only watch from the sidelines with envy as her brothers and sisters played all types of sports.

That changed when, at 57, she visited her heart specialist in Sydney for what was supposed to be a routine check-up.

“The doctor said you’ve got three months to live, we’ve got to do something [surgery] now. That was very confronting,” Pauline said.

“I went in for surgery, I’ve got mechanical valves and everything now, but it’s changed my life. I’ve still got my limits, I still know when I need to rest, but I can play sport now.”

Standing just 150cm tall, Pauline is testament that basketball has a place for everyone.

Walking Basketball is one of the inclusive programs conducted by Basketball ACT to encourage participation at all levels. Canberra’s Walking Basketball program is mixed gender, has players from their 50s to their 80s, and abilities range from those who have never bounced a basketball to those reconnecting with the sport. Skills and drills are followed by a friendly game at modified walking pace.

Such is the enthusiasm among the group, they gather for morning tea after the sessions and chat turns to entering a team in next year’s Masters Games. Over the years, Canberra has had elite basketball teams called the Cannons and the Gunners.

“We’ll be called the Canberra Muskets,” the group laughs in unison, referencing the 16th century weapons.

Asked what attracts them to Walking Basketball, answers from the group are similar. Staying active and healthy, learning new skills, the cake and coffee chat afterwards. Walking Basketball is also pay-as-you-go, enabling flexibility for retirees.

Pauline says she enrolled in Walking Basketball, inspired by watching her grandchildren play basketball.

“Growing up I was always very envious of other kids playing sport, I had a sister who was 12 months younger than me and played every sport,” Pauline says.

“I love watching my grandkids play basketball, and a couple of times they’ve come along to watch me play too, which makes me feel great. Even my children say to me ‘mum, you’re so different’.”

“I ride my bike here to basketball, I walk every day.”

Pauline’s message to others is clear. “Give it a go, just come and have fun.”

Basketball ACT conducts Walking Basketball sessions, twice a week at Belconnen Basketball Stadium – Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 10am-11am – which includes a post-session morning tea.

You can find out more about Walking Basketball, including costs and registration, by clicking the link below:

Walking Basketball

(Photos and story courtesy The Canberra Times)