Paddling their way to a healthy life

December 7, 2012 by Jessica Goulburn
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It is hard to believe that Leonard Gentin and Ivor Jacobson have both experienced several major surgical operations…writes Jessica Goulburn.


Leonard Gentin and Ivor Jacobson

It is also hard to believe that despite health issues, they recently padded for 14 hours down the Hawkesbury River.
It was Easter 2006 and Ivor started to feel a bit strange. “On the Tuesday, I went to the doctor and I told him, I need to go to the hospital,” Ivor says. Told that the ambulance was too busy to pick him up, Ivor’s wife sped through the streets of Sydney to take him to the hospital. “As I got there, I started vomiting. They took one look at me and suspected a heart attack right away.” Ivor was 49.

The next day, Ivor went for an angiogram. “The cardiologist said, ‘I’ve got bad news for you’. The first thought is that you’re going to die. The second thought is, ‘I need a heart transplant’,” Ivor explains.
Ivor needed a quadruple bypass. “I said, ‘fantastic, you can fix it!’” Leonard says that this attitude has a lot to answer for when it comes to Ivor today.
Suffering from a condition called Ulceratives Colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, Leonard Gentin goes for a routine colonoscopy annually. In 2009, the routine colonoscopy revealed a tumour. Because of his condition, doctors couldn’t remove the tumour, they had to remove Leonard’s whole bowel. Leonard underwent major surgery soon after.
However, this didn’t slow him down. “I was very motivated to get well again,” Leonard explains. “I kept walking and probably about two months after the major surgery I was already doing some ocean swims with a bag. I would put it in my costume and wear a vest.”
Eight months later, Leonard underwent the second of his three surgeries where doctors constructed an internal pouch out of his small intestine. “You’re constantly feeling irritation, you’re constantly on antibiotics. But it doesn’t mean that it can hold you back from things.”
Both men, despite suffering major health setbacks, refused to sit and wallow. In the face these stumbling blocks, both Leonard and Ivor took to the beach, the ocean and the roads.
Almost every weekend, Leonard and Ivor grab their kayak and cruise the harbour. They’ve met a pod of dolphins, picked up belongings along the way, and always stop for breakfast. They go all over the harbour, “we see the most beautiful homes, and the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets,” Ivor says. They go around the Opera House, under the bridge right up the Parramatta River, under the piers in Walsh Bay and they’ve been chased out of the Navy Base for trespassing. Both Leonard and Ivor also compete in ocean swims, triathlons and cycles.
However, both men make it clear that they had to work on their fitness to get where they are today. “The first time we went out, after half an hour, we were exhausted, everything hurt,” Ivor explains. “The next time we went out for an hour and we were equally exhausted, and then we pushed it to one and a half and then we pushed it to two. Then we discovered that in order to do the long distances you have to keep eating and drinking. Once you get your nutrition right, then you can keep going.”
This is the motto they employ when it comes to an event like the Hawkesbury Classic.


Jacobson and Gentin paddling [top]

On the last weekend in October, Leonard and Ivor took part in the annual Hawkesbury Classic, which raises funds for the Arrow Bone Marrow Transplant Foundation. This year, the event has raised $247,919 so far.
But, their weekend wasn’t without its obstacles. In fact, Leonard fell off!
They arrived at the checkpoint at Wiseman’s Ferry in the early hours of the morning. It was pitch black and freezing cold. After taking their pain medication, having a massage, and some tea and scones, they went to take the boat back out. “We didn’t realise, but it was a swamp and the boat got caught,” Ivor explains. He climbed into the front and the supporters started to pull the boat out. “The next thing I feel is the boat tipping.” Ivor stuck his oar out and managed to keep the boat from going over. But Leonard was already in the water.
“I went head-first,” Leonard explains. “I lost my glasses. It was cold, I was totally frozen now.” Yet, both continued to paddle. They finished the 111km event in 14 hours and 9 minutes. A significant achievement for even the healthiest of people.
Both men encourage everyone to get outdoors, stay social and stay active, even in the face of illness, injury or age. “You don’t have to do it on your own,” Leonard encourages. “It’s really nice to do it in a partnership. I’ve even done triathlons in a partnership. “
“There’s a lot of camaraderie. You’re in the sun, you’re out on the water, you gain so much positive energy from the weather. You gain so much positive energy from other people doing it,” says Ivor. “It’s a very healthy lifestyle because you’re eating, you’re drinking, you’re chatting and you’re telling jokes.”
Ivor describes their experiences as a continuous bucket-list. “We’re seeing things that are continuous. Every day it’s a new light, it’s a new experience.”
And so much of staying active and keeping fit in the face of age and illness is about the mental game. “What I’ve found is if you have a good attitude you can enjoy life so much more, and I didn’t really realise that until I got sick,” Leonard says.
Ivor and Leonard encourage everyone to do it, even if you’re healthy and young. “I look at Len, he’s really thrown himself fully into going out there, grabbing life by the horns and giving it a good shake,” Ivor says.
Life is a struggle. Whether you’re healthy, wealthy or wise. Everything is about attitude and how you see the world. And Leonard and Ivor are perhaps the most positive people you will ever meet. As Ivor says, “you get through the bad seas and you get to calmer waters, but you’ve got to keep going.”


2 Responses to “Paddling their way to a healthy life”
  1. Rozanne says:

    Len and Ivor, you are both inspirational. Well done!!!

  2. Anne says:

    Wow! I just LOVE this story Henry!

    Ivor and Leonard are my sort of people…winners NOT victims!. Just quietly going about challenging themselves and leaving everyone agape with their achievements.

    It IS about the 6″ between your ears and attitude….these two amazing guys are proof that you can take huge chunks out of life whenever or whatever the circumstances.

    Well done boys – I’m so impressed!

    ps you’ve just put something else on my bucket list 🙂

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