Celebrity News

Sporting masterclass: Age is no barrier

These four Kiwi sporting greats show they still have what it takes to excel.
Loading the player...

“Now, before we start, you must know we’re not models – we’re sportswomen,” marathon legend Allison Roe grins as she arrives at the Weekly’s photoshoot on Auckland’s waterfront.

As she takes her place alongside fellow Kiwi sporting icons – squash star Susie Simcock and former Silver Ferns Jenny-May Clarkson and Anna Stanley – it’s hard to distinguish the difference, though Susie admits she’s a little nervous.

“Someone asked me the other day what would take me out of my comfort zone,” she says as she gets her lipstick touched up. “Well, the answer is what we’re doing today. Everything else I’ve done seems easy!”

The former elite sportswomen radiate beauty, vibrancy and vitality as they smile and pose for the camera, looking – and acting – far younger than their years as they powerwalk and chat to each other along the wharf, having to go back and do it again a few times as they keep dissolving into laughter.

Susie, believe it or not, has just celebrated her 78th birthday. Alison is 60 – 37 years have passed since she famously won both the Boston and New York marathons – while former Silver Fern captain Anna Stanley has just celebrated her 40th birthday. And regular Weekly readers will be familiar with Jenny-May’s fairy-tale story of finding love after 40 – and who now, at 42, is happily married to husband Dean and mum to her adorable seven-month-old twins Atawhai and Te Manahau.

They all have a few gripes and niggles, it’s true. Their bodies don’t quite do what they used to back in their sporting heydays, or as Jenny-May somewhat elegantly puts it, “it’s not so much a finely-tuned weapon any more”.

They’ve long given up the rigours of playing professional sport for other careers, though all are still involved in the disciplines they love in some capacity, and agree that sport is still one of the most important parts of their lives.

Which leads us nicely to why we’ve gathered this group of strong, determined and inspiring women together. Not only are they participating in next year’s World Masters Games, they’re acting as ambassadors for the world’s biggest sporting competition that will bring 25,000 competitors of all ages, stages and abilities to Auckland, to play in 28 sports.

(Left to right) Susie Simcock, Jenny-May Clarkson, Anna Stanley and Allison Roe.

Why? Because all four ladies agree that sport should be for life, and just because ageing happens, it doesn’t mean you should stop giving things a go.

Instead, this group’s mission is encouraging Kiwi women to challenge themselves to participate and, as Anna says, it’s about “getting to your 40s and knowing life’s not over!”

“I spent my 20s as an elite athlete and then in my 30s I had my kids. Now I’m 40, it’s time to do something for me. And instead of playing netball, which is what everyone expected, I thought, let’s go back to my roots – I was a runner before I was a netballer, so I’m doing the 4 x 400m relay.”

Susie, who gained recognition as a sports administrator and was honoured by the International Olympic Committee in 2010 for her contribution to women’s sport, says, quite simply, sport is her secret for staying young. No Botox or miracle cure here!

Naturally, she plans to keep it up for as long as she possibly can and will take part in the golf programme at the Games.

“Well, keeping fit definitely helps!” she laughs. “I’ve often been involved with younger people and they think of me as being more like them. And I feel good – really good. I’m still involved in of lots of stuff. Maybe that’s my secret, actually. My old headmistress once said, ‘If you think you can make a difference, you should.’ And I can. I have people ringing all the time and it’s about not saying no. Just do it. My husband and family are quite happy with that, they just know it’s what Susie does. ‘Oh, she’s off again!’”

“Just doing stuff” is a philosophy shared by Allison. While her marathon days are firmly behind her, the Rodney Local Board member, at 60 years old, inexplicably decided to find the most difficult sport possible and give that a go. Even she’s questioning why.

“Who takes up rowing at 60?!” she laughs. “But why not? I’ve always loved watching rowing. And I haven’t fallen out of the boat yet, so that’s a plus. I mean, as you get a bit older, a few things happen, you injure this or that, but you have to keep going. It’s a matter of working the other body parts that don’t hurt!

“Sometimes you have to work around things, but at every age and stage of life, there are so many opportunities. You’ve got to take them.”

Taking those opportunities has also been a long-held belief for Jenny-May – after all, as she says, sport has been her entire life. She has represented New Zealand in netball and touch rugby, so she wanted to do something different for the Games.

Being the pragmatic woman she is, she decided to make it both a family affair and a way to face a lifelong fear.

“I’ve always been about putting myself out there, so this is another way to do it,” she nods. “So my husband and I are doing the triathlon. He’s doing the cycling leg, he loves cycling, and I’m swimming. I had an incident in the ocean where I was dumped by a wave when I was young and I’ve been afraid of the ocean since then. But I did the crossing from Devonport to the city a few years ago. I was terrified during different stages of that swim, but the relief and achievement I felt at the end was pretty cool.”

Jenny-May and Dean needed a “third wheel” to complete their team, with a contest running on the World Masters Games website to find a willing participant for the running leg. There was initial talk of Jenny-May’s 1 News co-presenter Peter Williams filling the gap. But Jenny-May reckons he might be a little too competitive for Team Clarkson, whose philosophy is definitely more “sport meets beer”.

“One night in between reading the bulletin, he said he could do it, but he’s too serious for our team,” she laughs. “He runs, that’s his thing. I said, ‘Mate, we’ll be having strategy meetings at the pub, none of this serious stuff.’ I’ve already said whoever applies must be okay with going to the pub.”

Anna is also approaching the Games with a relaxed attitude, as well as the knowledge that a good sauvignon blanc will only help matters.

“It’s a social experience,” she says. “There’s a little talk of my old Otago team coming back together to play in the netball competition, which could be really fun, as well as doing the 4 x 400m. I mean, we’d need a team of 14 just to survive the week, but I’ve said they can all come and stay at my house. I have a pool and a spa, so we can do our hot cold recovery, and there’ll be wine. That’s what we did for club netball – drink our sav and text each other about how sore we were.”

While it will be Anna, Allison and Jenny-May’s first time competing at a Masters Games, Susie’s been involved with the organisation for years – and even won silver at the 2005 Games for golf.

“I was described as a ‘young golfer’,” she says gleefully.

“There’s no way I was that! But that’s the great thing about World Masters, you’re in age groups, so suddenly you’re competitive again! I do so love golf. I’m hopeless – I get hooked on things quickly. I didn’t start playing it until I was well into the Masters age, but I didn’t start playing squash until my 20s either, after I had my children.”

Of course, committing to such an event means training is in order.

While Susie plans to continue to play golf socially, the other three are determined to get a bit of prep in, though finding time and managing injuries is proving tricky for some.

“Well, it’s waking up muscles that have been dormant for a long time,” Anna says with a smile. “But it’s also invigorating. My running team and I have got together a little bit, there’s a fine balance – you don’t want to do too much and get injured. I’m mindful of looking after my body because it’s been thrashed over the years.”

At 60 years old, Allison picked up an oar and began rowing.

Jenny-May has done a grand total of two gym sessions – well, when she says gym, “I mean my garage and I worked out for 15 minutes each time,” – because, unsurprisingly, juggling the boys and full-time work is a bit tricky.

“It’ll be a fast finish, mate. Six weeks out, I’ll be down to the Mangere swimming pool. I work better under pressure. And hopefully the boys will be in a better routine in the new year!”

Allison is nursing an injury to her hip flexors, so she’s been out of the boat for a few weeks. She’s also finding the practicalities of rowing make training harder than she expected.

“It’s driving to a lake and being able to physically lift a boat. Which I can’t do,” she says, shaking her head. “Also,” she continues, her eyes wide, “did you know a single scull boat doesn’t float on its own? You have to balance it or you’ll tip over. It’s a mind game. In fact, it’s challenged my head more than my body. But I love that challenge.”

With less than six months to go until the Games, the excitement is building amongst the four fabulous ladies, who are just looking forward to being a part of the experience.

“People keep asking me what I had to do to qualify, and the answer is nothing,” Anna says. “Anyone can participate, as long as they meet the minimum age criteria.”

Adds Susie, “There’s a 100-year-old woman from India coming over! But do get involved because it’s going to be something special. If there’s a sport you’re attracted to, go for it, but otherwise, volunteer. You’ll meet people from all over the world and have the opportunity to go to the opening and closing ceremonies – and, of course, the party central down here at Queen’s Wharf.”

But perhaps Allison sums it up best.

“It’s about keeping putting yourself out there,” she asserts. “I always find that I think about my grandmother when opportunities like this come up. When she was in her 90s, and I was young, she said to me there were so many things she would have liked to have done in her life.

“She was always a bit shy and reticent, and she told me, ‘Make sure you do it – whatever you really want to do in life, just do it.’ I remember her sitting around in her later years reading a book, not doing a lot and probably wanting to.

“So I really grabbed that. She’s right. Whatever it is I want to do, I’m going to find a way to make that happen. Age should never be a barrier.”

Get NZ Woman’s Weekly home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 29% on a magazine subscription.

Related stories