As a former marathon runner, Anne Flynn knows a thing or two about endurance. She’s still way out in front of many others her age, living life to the full, and loving her caravan journeys, writes Peta Stavelli.
Anne Flynn was in her mid-70s when she decided to give up motorhoming. However, she didn’t want to give up her RV life, so she bought a caravan instead.
“Blame COVID,” Anne says with a wry laugh. “Before COVID, I was on the road all of the time, but when the lockdowns hit, and I was called home, I decided I didn’t want to live the same way as I had been. Since then, I’ve lived a completely different life.”
Anne swapped her motorhome for a caravan so she could have more flexibility. She’s an artist who sells her work at markets and exhibitions and is often asked to speak at craft groups. At these times, she finds life is easier now that she can leave the caravan behind and just take her car.
“I can go to the shops or park at a show with greater ease than I had before. Sometimes markets are held at school grounds and fields where they don’t appreciate you driving over the grass in your heavy motorhome.”
Not for the faint of heart
Anne’s life is so full that she wonders how she ever had time to go to work. And her corporate career, which she shared with her late husband, Bill, wasn’t for the faint-hearted either. The couple had a career in hotel management after the Global Financial Crisis. They specialised in hotel receivership, which meant they could be called on to drop everything at a moment’s notice and fly across the Tasman to take over the management of a failed business. “We might receive a phone call telling us we’d be picked up from an airport in Australia the following day, and we’d be
The couple lived in Australia for 20 years and in 37 different hotels during their careers. That meant almost constant movement which – in many ways – prepared them for 15 years of motorhoming after retirement. But all of that changed when Bill was diagnosed with cancer.
“We were married for 51 years, and we worked together for 40 of those years.”
Anne nursed her husband for more than a decade, and after he passed away, she began to think about the shape of her life without him.
“Life can be empty when you’re faced with a loss like that, but I decided I wasn’t going to sit around. I was going to live as long as I could and do all that I could do. It would have been easy to throw in the towel, but Bill and I were both marathon runners and we had a motto: you don’t just give in. You dig in.”
Always one more race
Digging in and digging deep was required of Anne from the time of Bill’s diagnosis in 2000 when she began to write a diary as a way to cope with the experience.
“It was all a blur,” she recalls.
The diary eventually became a book, but just as she was preparing to go to print, Anne received a breast cancer diagnosis. Neither down, nor out, she began a rewrite of the book to include her own journey through cancer. That book, Always one more race, is now on its second reprint. The title, of course, draws on the couple’s passion for running marathons.
“It was our philosophy. We’d encourage each other – dangle a carrot, if you like – by saying, ‘Well maybe we’ll be well enough to run a marathon again in November’.”
Dangling a carrot is a way of life for Anne who has just booked a three-month around-the-world cruise for 2025.
“I might not make it. Who knows what might happen? But right now, that’s what I intend to do, and I’m looking forward to it,” she says.
Anne readily admits that she lives for her art.
“I dream about it. It’s what gets me up and at my sewing machine at 3am,” she says.
When I asked what she made, Anne took a moment to think about it.
“What I make changes all of the time,” she explains. “At the moment, I’m making shabby chic, retro jewellery out of vintage fabric, doilies, and ribbon. As soon as I posted these online, I sold three of them. And then I sold three more at a market on Sunday. It gives me an enormous thrill.”
Anne also makes aprons, sock monkeys, and potholders.
“I just do what I feel like doing, I suppose; although some things sell really well, and I keep making versions of those.”
Anne has also been a finalist in the prestigious annual art extravaganza, World of WearableArt (WOW), which is a fixture on the calendar of any art lover. Her entry, Nothing like a Good Yarn, was lovingly and painstakingly knitted.
“I suppose I’m of the age that our mothers and grandmothers taught us to knit and sew.”
While she’s currently house-sitting (which she says she’ll only do if there’s room to take her caravan), these days Anne is often based at Taupō where she works closely with a friend who has an alteration business, and who also ‘does the markets’.
Friends and tribes
Even as much of her life has been spent travelling, Anne has always kept up with her friendships. She meets up regularly with a small group of eight women she has known since they all began school together in Paeroa.
“We’re all approaching our late 70s, and we all make time to catch up for a weekend once a year because it’s important to us,” she says. “Perhaps it’s because we grew up in a small town. I don’t know. We’re all different and we’ve all worked and travelled all over the world, yet we’re all still close and try to meet up at least once a year.”
Anne has another group of friends she refers to as ‘her tribe’. These are her crafting market buddies, who inspire and support her on a more regular basis.
“Everyone needs a tribe. We’re all creative. We all enjoy the markets. We support each other with our creativity, and I find I gravitate towards my tribe all the time. All of these friendships enrich my heart.”
Have suitcase (or carapace), will travel
When I ask Anne if she has any advice for others, perhaps older women who are considering life on the road, she doesn’t hesitate.
“Hire a motorhome for 10 days and see if you like it.”
She’s quick to point out that a life of constant change is not for everyone.
“Our motto was always: ‘Have suitcase, will travel’ but I had a friend who always said she wanted my life. So she tried my life, and she hated it. She came back broken. Some people find that when they face a life of freedom, they don’t know what to do with it, and they don’t actually want it.”
But Anne loves her life and has no plans to change anytime soon. In fact, she shows no sign of slowing down; although, she doesn’t run marathons anymore.
“My knees are a bit dodgy these days. However, I still go to the gym, and I have a personal trainer.”
And she doesn’t see age as a factor when it comes to choosing a caravan over a motorhome.
“I invested in remote-controlled movers, and I paid someone to teach me how to reverse it. I personally don’t find backing it too hard. I only needed to be shown once,” she says.
“The only thing I struggle with is having someone to guide me when I’m reversing, and I find there’s always someone at a campground who’s willing to help for a few minutes. And if I get too old to tow one day, I’ll hire someone to move my caravan for me.”