No challenge too big, too far, too high for Leaside’s Avtar Dhanota

Avtar Dhanota and his wife Raj.
Avtar Dhanota.

If you ever peek at retirement cards, you’ll see messages such as “relax and enjoy!”, “time to kick back!” and pictures of rocking chairs and slippers. This is SO not the life of retired Leasider Avtar Dhanota.

At 76 years young, Dhanota has probably never even worn slippers. Trade slippers for trekking shoes and you’ll get a picture of Dhanota’s retirement.

Born in India, Dhanota grew up working on his family’s farm. While he was never a part of any organized sport, farm work kept him in great shape.

Fitness has always been important in Dhanota’s life and, as he notes with a smile, “being fit is good for you and good for the government!”

After teaching in India for several years, Dhanota and his wife Raj moved to Canada so he could pursue a Masters program at the University of Toronto.

The couple moved to Leaside in 1984 and raised their three children in the same house where they currently live.

In his 22 years of employment at the TDSB, the healthy Dhanota only took two days off. Slowing down has never been a part of his vocabulary.

Before retiring at 55, Dhanota ran full and half marathons, cycled, skydived, trekked, conquered Machu Picchu and worked out at a local gym, Pure Fitness.

Since retirement, he has climbed Mera Peak and Annapurna IV, both in Nepal. Annapurna IV is considered a training peak for Everest and at an elevation of 7,525 metres is, as Dhanota describes it, “humbling.”

He has also trekked twice to Everest base camp (the world’s highest base camp) as well as Mont Blanc, the Annapurna Circuit, the Annapurna base camp, Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Grand Canyon, and the Grandview and Hermit trails.

At one point Dhanota decided to take up a hobby that would make him money, so he trained to fly. He soon discovered though, that “single engine planes were too slow for my taste.”

At 64, Dhanota decided to try his hand at a sport he’d been interested in for years.

He messaged the Hanlan Boat Club in the Toronto port lands. Familiar with seeing the sport but not having taken part, Dhanota asked if he could participate in “skulling.” “I didn’t even know how to spell it!”

Sculling (with a “c”) is a watersport in which an individual uses two oars versus a rower with one. 

This August, Dhanota won the lightweight Masters race at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta.

Janet Bolton, president of the Hanlan Boat Club, notes that “this is a significant achievement and one of many race wins for Avtar, who, at age 76 is faster than many much younger athletes.”

And Dhanota will not be slowing down anytime soon. He has a bucket list which includes trekking Patagonia, the Canadian Rockies, the Camino de Santiago in Spain and Island Peak in Nepal. He would also like to row from Toronto to Ottawa in a coastal boat and cycle multi-day trails in different Canadian provinces.

He hopes to motivate other seniors to get active and lives by his dad’s wise words: “do your best and you won’t regret anything.”

About Susan Scandiffio 154 Articles
Susan Scandiffio was born in Scotland and raised in Toronto. While she holds a master’s degree in history, her main passion (besides her wonderful family) is sports. Susan can often be found at the A.C.C. or in a Leaside arena or playing field, scoping out stories for Leaside Life.