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Managing pain and feeling great: Tom’s exercise story

Former Warwick student and ex-teacher Tom explains how the University’s Sports and Wellness Hub helps keep him fighting fit.

A 230-station gym. A 12-lane, 25m swimming pool. Six glass-backed squash courts. Four fitness spaces. Three 15m climbing walls. A 12-court sports hall.

Tom Roberts may not use them all, but when he compares the facilities at Warwick’s Sports and Wellness Hub to the University’s old sports centre from his younger days, it’s night and day.

“I used to go there for the sauna and to swim because it was the closest place available, but it was showing its age,” Tom said.

“This one, though is on a different scale"

“This one, though… it’s on a different scale.”

In some ways, the Sports and Wellness Hub, which opened in 2019 as part of a £49m investment in sport and wellness facilities, reflects the many changes 75-year-old Tom has seen from the University.

A new home and bright beginnings

He first came to Coventry in 1966 – when the just-opened University of Warwick was still being built.

“I grew up in Huddersfield, the son of two teachers, and I always wanted to be one as well,” Tom explained.

“I heard about the new Bachelor of Education course that was initially being introduced in only two places, one of which was a new university here, opening in 1965.

“Because the degree wasn’t ready to start immediately, I did a year of unqualified teaching in Huddersfield and joined the Coventry College of Education for a four-year course, and then transferred to the uni when I was one year in.”

Tom’s undergraduate days were happy times; he met his wife, had a baby, and became a newly qualified teacher.

He then went on to teach Biology at nearby Finham Park – “it opened in 1970; most teachers never get to open a new school” – and his career in education began in earnest.

But in his late 30s, Tom experienced a period of clinical depression.

Getting help. Changing routines.

“I had the house, the job, the wife, the kids, the dog - but I was so stressed"

“I had the house, the job, the wife, the kids, the dog – but I was so stressed.

“I developed stomach ulcers and went to hospital, which led to me getting help.”

Initially, that help was in the form of “a cocktail of drugs” – including Valium – before a locum doctor eventually referred him to a hospital psychiatrist.

Tom took around 18 months to come off the drugs entirely.

“I was unloading, talking,” he recalled.

“She explained that I needed to take a break, not work through the holidays and understand that it’s not ‘lazy’ to be ill.

“The techniques she taught me have helped me through so much since then, from medical issues to divorce, bereavements and retirement.”

Staying active has played a central role in Tom’s self-management of his mental and physical health, too.

“I was diagnosed with arthritis in 1995 and utterly shocked; I thought only old people got it, until I joined the Arthritis Action charity and discovered how common and indiscriminate it is,” Tom explained.

“So I turned to a more Mediterranean diet and enhanced my exercise routine – no running after surgery, no more badminton, but concentrating on the things I can do and enjoy.”

Finding his fit

Tom never looked back, although he now uses the Sports and Wellness Hub around three times a week rather than every day.

“I go to the gym twice and then the third time is for a swim,” he said.

“I’ve always been a swimmer, but I used to think gyms were macho, hole in the wall-type places.

“When I came in, it wasn’t what I expected at all.

“Everyone was so friendly, and because it’s on the second floor there are amazing views over the Warwickshire countryside as well.”

Tom soon realised that trying the gym for the first time could help him stay on top of his health and wellbeing.

“the staff...bent over backwards to show me how to use all the bits of kit that are right for me"

“I told the staff about my age and my health and they bent over backwards to show me how to use all the bits of kit that are right for me,” he said.

“I like the machines where the weight is captive – I’m in control and can adjust it whenever.

“The gym has made a huge difference to my physical strength, and it’s even noticeable when I’m doing jobs at home or in the garden.”

Covid restrictions aside, Tom also makes uses of the Hub’s sauna, which provides invaluable pain relief after a case of shingles five years ago.

“The one at the old sports centre broke down intermittently and that was a real shame because the heat also helps with my arthritis,” he explained.

“Being able to go back and forth between the sauna and the steam room is a great help when I’m at the Hub.”

Swimming is also a key part of Tom’s routine – he is an experienced scuba diver with the PADI Divemaster licence to prove it, and varies his strokes with every length of the pool.

“The quality of the pool here is just tremendous,” Tom said.

A place for all

Tom sees the Hub, which is home to a branch of Caffè Nero, as something of a social space.

“It’s nice to talk to people,” he said.

“The staff greet me by name, you get to know the regulars and you’re made to feel really welcome.”

He’s also a big believer that other local residents could benefit from the Sports and Wellness Hub’s facilities.

“It's for everyone in the community, not just students or alumni"

“It’s for everyone in the community, not just students or alumni.

“That’s my message: Don’t think about what you can’t do. Think about what you can do.”