IN the hustle and bustle of a Monday morning in Charters Towers, one man moves slowly and methodically – his sole focus preparing for the next triathlon or half marathon.
Slow movement isn’t a choice, but rather a matter of condition for Fred Schneider who, at 77 years of age, is somewhat of an oddity in his endurance-based hobbies.
While Fred has always made an effort to stay fit and healthy, just over 20 years ago his usual run around the block began its transformation into an intense exercise regime.
“I was running down the street when (friends) Mike and Mary Donoghue pulled up beside me on their way to a local Road Runners meeting,” Fred said.
“They said, ‘We see you running around all the time, why not run with us’,” he said.
“They were my friends and that is what I did.
“The local Road Runners Club here used to meet at the pool in summer and when they got back from a run, they’d do a few laps, and so I learned how to do a few laps too.
“They were into triathlons and marathons and got me into all this stuff.”
And, so at 56 years of age, Fred competed in his first triathlon – the 1991 Gold City Triathlon. It was the beginning of his involvement in many endurance events that he would compete in not only for himself, but also for charity.
"You know how they have the 40 hour famine; well once we walked for 40 hours for charity.”
The charity walk saw Fred spend two nights camping along the road between Charters Towers and Townsville as he made the 140km trek on foot to the Strand.
Another occasion saw Fred take on the same stretch of road – this time on his bicycle – in 1995, at the age of 60. Fred rode his bicycle to Townsville to compete in three endurance events at the Masters Games over three days and then rode home again.
“I got a few medals – gold for a triathlon, silver for cross country, and a bronze for the half marathon.
“But, they are age group medals so it’s not to say I am champion.”
Modesty was a quality most likely entrenched into Fred’s fibre as a child born in the coalfields of Yallourn, Victoria in 1935.
Brought up in Essendon, Melbourne, during the war years, Fred finished primary schooling in Murrumbeena before enrolling in a local technical college.
“Most of us left school and got into a trade. I went as an apprentice electrician. I wanted to be a tradesman like my Dad.
“Essendon was an interesting place – military aircraft were always flying over to the airport base there and there were a lot of servicemen in town.
“The girl next door was in her late teens or early twenties and she finished up with a bit of an American accent and called everybody Honey.
“Essendon was on the edge of town and you could walk through paddocks to creek where you caught yabbies. I had a dog and could walk for miles.”
In the 1950s, Fred was required to do National Service, which included work as a street liner for Queen Elizabeth II’s 1954 Australia visit.
“Street liners were a line of soldiers between the crowd and the Queen – it was more for show rather than security.
“There was little security risk – we had no training in what to do if there was any danger. We were watching the Queen and the Duke, not the people.”
Two years later, Fred decided to travel a few more miles on a trip around Australia.
“A friend of mine from the local church and I packed up a four cylinder ’32 Ford fitted out with a trailer – it was quite an adventure in the 50s.”
Fred and his friend travelled through northern Victoria picking fruit, before heading further north to the Murrumbidgee area and then onto Brisbane.
“We got as far as Brisbane and we had sort of spent too much time getting there and my friend needed to get home.”
At the time, Fred’s grandfather was living in Mackay. With his father’s assurance he would not run out of petrol, Fred left Brisbane for Mackay, where he got a job as an electrician at the Mackay Regional Electricity Board (MREB).
It was here that Fred started a family after he met and married his wife, Eunice (nee Nielson).
“We were in the local church together and took it from there. We have been blessed in our life – we just had our 50th wedding anniversary in November last year.”
The pair only has one son, Kedron, but Fred said his son made up for them with five children of his own.
Living in Mackay raising his family was a content time for Fred, made easier by the easier work regulations of 50 years ago, when “as long as you had a ticket you could work.”
Fred did a lot of work in rural areas that needed wiring for the new spur lines being erected from Mackay out to Nebo and Pinnacle as well as work for builders.
“I particularly liked working on properties – you would stay out there and they’d look after you.
“Nowadays, electricians might travel 100km to a property and then travel back home that night – no wonders they don’t get much done and it costs so much.
“Today, they have made it so that a person has to train to be a manager before they can get their ticket. Managers and tradesmen are different people – people don’t pay you to be a manager, they pay you to do a job.
“As an electrician in my day, you didn’t have a cherry picker and you worked alone. A lot of the time you had to dig your own trenches, and drive water pipe electrodes in with a sledgehammer.
“My fitness level was already pretty high just for work.”
In 1979, Fred relocated his family to Charters Towers to help with the local church after he noticed “a bit of a need there” during a visit for the Charters Towers Country Music Festival.
“As time went by, we liked it here and ended up selling our house in Mackay.
“We only paid $20,000 for our house on a one-acre block. We are adding a tennis court soon, I’ve got two-thirds of the fence done, and the shed is nearly done.”
With an intense weekly exercise regime, it is no wonder Fred has a few projects unfinished.
“On Monday morning, I swim 20 laps (one kilometre) – I don’t mind if I have to share a lane with someone as long as they are slow enough.
“Then I do a 25km cycle – and I put a hill in this one – and then when I come back from that, I run a bit better than 5km.
“I do that Monday morning or Thursday – once a week.
“On Tuesday, I sometimes go out with cyclists or go out for a run. I can’t keep up with the cyclists these days.
“I do tennis two days a week – it’s fairly relaxed, but we do get some good games up. And, then I’ll do a 10km run.
"I just got a cancer cut out of my leg so no running for a week or so.”
When Fred is training for a half marathon, the regime changes slightly with a 20km circuit around town replacing the weekly triathlon.
In 2001, his sporting prowess was acknowledged when Fred was awarded Senior Sportsman of the Year during Australia Day celebrations.
But, age is not an issue for Fred, who has survived bowel cancer, bypass surgery and a broken leg to compete in the Cannington Triathlon during Julia Creek’s Dirt and Dust nearly every year.
“It hasn’t been every year – I missed out the year I broke my leg. I don’t think I missed out the bowel cancer year. I sort of don’t keep records much – just live day to day.
“I don’t think I’m such an interesting character really. I don’t drink or smoke – not that it is a prohibition with the church, it’s just good health.”