Kenn Butler should be dead but a life of keeping active saved him from an early grave.
At age 27 he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, at 37 he had his first heart attack and at 54 he died from a cardiac arrest, being brought back to life 26 long minutes later.
Now at 62, Kenn is feeling more alive than ever, attributing this to Nelson’s Riverside Pool, one of the city’s “best kept secrets”.
“I told my doctor recently that that place keeps me alive. He said ‘No it doesn’t, it’s up here’, (points to his head) and I agree with that.
“It’s the top three inches.”
Kenn, the owner of Paradise Brokers, has been a regular at the pool for 19 years, swimming a kilometre a day, four days a week as well as biking on Saturdays.
He swears by “keeping moving” as the elixir for his debilitating arthritis.
The condition has taken over his hands and feet, making his passion for badminton, squash, golf, tennis and running marathons a thing of the past.
He says he is “absolutely convinced” that with arthritis “it’s use it or lose it”.
And he does.
He dons his flippers, his trunks and dips into the ‘medium’ speed lane, doing 15 laps a day.
Part of his “wellness philosophy” he says, is making time for himself.
“The pool is my time, I make a point of it.”
That means often dropping everything at work and getting to the pool on time to beat the after school rush.
And the benefits of heading to the pool are three fold. As well as allowing him to exercise while being gentle on his joints, he has made plenty of friends and does some of his “best strategic thinking” while swimming.
Kenn says he has come up with some of his most successful business proposals while submerged in the pool.
“The better you feel inside, the more you can achieve.”
His arthritis may be in remission but the discomfort and pain still comes in ebbs and flows.
“For me, drugs aren’t it.”
He pops the odd Panadol but it’s a healthy mind, healthy diet and exercise that are the key.
His heart condition though does require a number of pills a day.
Kenn has cut out alcohol and sugar and drinks two litres of water daily.
While wellness and water go hand in hand now for Kenn, it wasn’t always that way.
It’s been a bumpy ride to getting where he is today.
Diagnosed with arthritis at just 27 was just the beginning.
For two years, he did 16 hour days full of stress and worry which Kenn says contributed to his first heart attack.
Always active in sports, before the arthritis started to take hold of his body, he ran marathons and played a number of sports at a high level. It was during a touch sevens game in 2009 that he says he “just dropped dead for 26 minutes” from a cardiac arrest.
After the episode, he was told over 50-year-olds have only a four per cent chance of survival, so he was surveyed, being asked ‘How did you survive?’
“I said, ‘the ambulance officers were there’.”
“Nah there’s gotta be another reason. What’s your lifestyle like?,” he was asked.
“And I said, ‘Well I swim four days a week and I bike on Saturdays.’
“Someone said, ‘What are you doing this afternoon?’ I said, ‘After we do this I’m taking an hour off in a wee room all by myself.'”
“What do you do there?” Kenn was asked, to which he answered, “I meditate and I read the National Business Review on a push bike.”
“They said, ‘That’s it. All the people who survive are fit.'”
He had a defibrillator implanted after his collapse.
Kenn is fit in body and mind, making sure he doesn’t let things get to him that he can’t control.
He says he used to worry about work and what people thought of him.
“Guess what, 85 per cent of the things we worry about don’t happen” and “what other people think of you is none of your business”.
He says he was told by a doctor that he does a “brilliant” job of maintaining mental capacity and wellness.
“As we get older, we slow down. It’s unavoidable. I always thought that I would be strong forever but it’s b*llsh*t. It’s part of the aging process but I’m where I am today ‘cos of that swimming pool.”
Credit: Carly Gooch/ Stuff