Moran Sylvania aged care residents take part in Reach the Summit Challenge

After months of strict visitor restrictions and social distancing brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the team at Moran Sylvania aged care decided to find a way to boost residents' mental, physical and emotional well-being.

What started as an idea to provide a wellness program covering clinical, physiotherapy and lifestyle soon morphed into a walking challenge that also aimed to boost residents' overall well-being.

To make things more interesting, they set a goal to walk 8850 metres - the distance from Kathmandu to the summit of Mount Everest - during the months of June and July 2020.

The result was the Moran Sylvania Reach the Summit Challenge.

The centre's onsite physiotherapists took on the role of sherpas and were tasked with leading the residents.

Each Tuesday and Thursday for eight weeks, residents met for 15 minutes of warm-up exercises and a quick chat about walking strategy before they completed their daily quota. This was followed by a warm down and lunch.

The event culminated on July 28, when Moran Sylvania residents and their support crews reached the 'summit' of Mount Everest.

They were rewarded not just by the personal satisfaction of achieving their personal goals but received a special video message of congratulations from George Hillary, the grandson of Sir Edmund Hillary - one of the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1958.

Special mention: George Hillary made a video message for the participants.

Moran Sylvania general manager Lorraine Kelly said it was hoped the challenge would "inspire our residents, no matter what their ability, and that everyone could participate in some way".

She said the event was a group effort, with everyone from the marketing team to the maintenance team getting involved.

Even Moran Sylvania chefs got in the mood, preparing Nepali dishes such as momo's (Nepalese meat dumplings), Nepali curry, khir (Nepali rice pudding), Himalayan green tea and gajar halwa (carrot pudding).

But it was a conversation with the manager at Kathmandu's Cronulla store that really put them on the map.

They put Moran Sylvania in touch with the Australian Himalayan Foundation after seeing similarities with its Neverest Challenge, resulting in loans and donations of posters, prayer flags, banners and decorations.

Those who couldn't walk found ways to get involved. Some were pushed in wheelchairs, others took on the role of cheer squad, clapping and waving flags each session.

Some Moran Sylvania residents surprised staff and themselves with their enthusiasm, including Dorothy Brandley, 99, who didn't miss a single session during the eight-week challenge.

"I don't like to sleep during the day ... I don't want to miss out on anything," she said.

"You've got to just keep your body moving every day. I don't like to sit around."

Physiotherapist Dhanush Srinivas said: "I have witnessed residents and colleagues coming out of their shell.

"I have seen individuals push aside their personal struggles and differences to challenge themselves and become fitter.

"We have a resident who recently suffered from a serious stroke and is unable to walk. She was determined to participate in the walk by being pushed in her wheelchair, moving her strong ankle every step of the way."

Physiotherapist Benjamin Jacobs said another resident who was initially frustrated by his lack of mobility had made "massive gains" as a result of the challenge and had gone from "being barely able to move around his room with assistance to walking 100 metres almost by himself".

While physiotherapist Veeral Patel said another resident had gone from not thinking she could stand to "walking more than 200 metres a day".

"I am so proud of our team, our residents and our supporters and partners," Ms Kelly said.

"I'd like to say a very special 'thank you' to the team at the Australian Himalayan Foundation for getting excited about our project and for being with us every step of the way."