Swimming with men: The Melbourne 'Fab Five' defying the statistics

Some mornings are harder than others, but each day – at the crack of dawn – these five gentlemen head to their local pool for a quick dip.

Sure, there are the physical benefits, says the group’s "spring chicken" Angelo Natoli,  but at the heart of it is something greater.

It’s a way for the five men, aged between 65 and 88, to have a chat, share their issues and solve the world’s problems.

It sounds ordinary – they certainly think there is nothing special about what they do – but these men, with a combined age of 388, are defying research that has consistently found that older people are more likely to be overweight, lonely and at risk of committing suicide.

Ten years ago, Graham Polkinghorne, now 88, John Tait, 69, James Wiley, 82, Lou Coldebella, 84, and Angelo Natoli, 65,  were strangers, plunging into the waters at the Boroondara Sports Complex.

A chance meeting sparked the formation of this group, affectionately known as the "Fab Five".

And over the years, through all the ups and downs (and cold Melbourne mornings) the men have stuck by each other.

"There’s no pretentiousness, there’s no baggage – we are who we are," Mr Tait says.

"We met by circumstance and we talk about anything and everything. We solve the world’s problems over a cup of coffee every Friday, but authorities just don’t listen to us."


In earlier days, some of the men were runners and others rugby players, but as they have gotten older, swimming has become the perfect low-impact exercise.

"I’ve always been conscious of trying to keep fit – I used to jog a bit," Mr Coldebella says.

"And then I got old, my bones started to creak, back ached, and I was having knee problems so I thought I better take up swimming."

The group’s oldest member, 88-year-old Mr Polkinghorne, described swimming as the "natural progression" from running and walking.

Mr Natoli is the only member of the group who has a full-time day job, and says an early-morning swim is the best start to his hectic day.

"You get a bit of exercise, meet some nice people, have a bit of a chat and then you go to work and start the headaches all over again," he says.

The Fab Five has won the praise of University of Melbourne Associate Professor Christina Bryant whose work focuses on the psychology of ageing.

Men over the age of 85 can be isolated and at risk, Professor Bryant says, with feelings of being a burden and losing their connection to society.

"The meeting together to do something physical is really ticking all of the boxes," she says.

"Physical activity is probably one of the best established ways of protecting yourself from depression … And when they’re talking they’re having to make conversation, draw on things they may have heard about in the news there’s a level of cognitive stimulation.

"The next question is how can we get more men to do what these guys are doing?"

This article Swimming with men: The Melbourne 'Fab Five' defying the statistics was originally published in The Age.