At the age of 82, Perry Gregory from Hillcrest can give most gym members a good run. Five days a week, for the past 17 years, he has been a regular face at the YMCA North Shore Recreation Centre, and he has no plans to break the habit just yet.

“I can come to the gym in a bit of a mood but once I leave here I’m jumping out of my skin,” he says.

Perry’s no stranger to training. In the 1960s he played senior rugby union in Wellington before switching codes and lining up with the New Zealand Māori elite rugby league team to tour Australia.

“We had a reunion about nine months ago,” Perry says. “Some of the guys came on a bus and were struggling to get down the stairs.” As for Perry, he says his neck is a bit tight but he’s fine as long as he keeps exercising.

A life of rugby and physically arduous labour hardly shows on the face of the octogenarian. He’s driven large mining trucks, worked as a rubbish collector on Wellington’s steep roadsides and spent time on the wharves in Auckland. Two years ago he retired for good from driving the AUT bus between the Northcote and City campuses.

Every day at the gym Perry completes at least an hour of cardio and weight training, and recently he clocked up one million metres on the rowing machine. He’s also partial to a game of squash, and is a familiar face in the North Shore Recreation Centre’s spin classes. But it’s the community he finds at his local YMCA that keeps him coming back: “Everyone is so friendly. In other gyms no one talks to you.

“I’ve been to a lot of gyms in Wellington, but here you can come in ordinary clothes.”

Perry’s also the go-to guy that introduces new gym members to the other regulars and ensures everyone feels like they’re part of the YMCA community - he has a notebook with six pages of names of people he has met during his time at the centre. And he knows YMCA staff are always ready to give him a call if he fails to show up when anticipated or goes on holidays without telling anyone.

“I know most people – it’s nice to have a bit of a chat. We have a cup of coffee afterward, and a bit of a talk and a bit of a laugh.”

For those struggling to find the motivation to exercise regularly, Perry says the key is to create the habit just like he did when he stopped playing rugby.

“I kept going and kept going and now it’s just sort of a habit. Just get in and do it. Stop thinking and wishing and start doing.”