Athletics: Age shall not weary this bunch


A large contingent of athletes from the Bay of Plenty area will compete at the 22nd Masters Games to be held from February 1-10 in Wanganui.

More than 100 have entered from the Bay of Plenty out of just under 3000 entries.

Notable among them this year is 68-year-old heart transplant recipient Bryan Eckersley from Rotorua, but he says he will be cutting down his events this time because his health has suffered a setback.

"I had a heart attack in June 2004 which resulted in a triple bi-pass. Unfortunately this did not work and 18 months later I received a heart transplant in December 2005," said Eckersley.

He first competed in Wanganui in 2007 and has been back in 2009 and 2011. He also competed at the NZ Masters in Dunedin 2010, the South Island Masters in Nelson, and two World Transplant Games and three Australian Transplant Games over this time.

With some success too.

"Since my transplant I have won a total of 34 medals in sports, which included indoor rowing, speed roller skating, roller hockey, downhill and cross country MTB, road cycling, petanque, ten pin bowling, shot put, 5km walks, and Twilight 400. I have competed in every Wanganui Masters Games except the first one and 2005.

"But this year I am only competing in the downhill MTB, perhaps the grass sprint, Twilight 400 and Sport Accuracy Challenge because I have had a slight hiccup in my health so I am not as fit as I would like. This time my wife will be with me competing in the Twilight 400."

There are other characters from the Bay competing.

Open water and pool swimmer Sydney Salek (83) from Tauranga takes on the Whanganui River in the pen water swim and is in six events in the pool. He won a swag of medals at the last Games.

Pat Taylor (Tauranga), Maureen Savage (Tauranga) and Johanna Butler (Tauranga) join him in the pool. Savage is also a walker and Taylor rides a bike on the track and is in the unique star-racing event up and down the Durie Hill steps.

Robert McPherson from Te Puke is a constant Wanganui visitor and a very busy man when he does attend. The 71-year-old is in the 1500m and 3000m on the track, is in a mass of dancesport events with Papamoa's Colleen Jackson, is in the duathlon, and the 5km, 10km and cross-country walks.

Last Games McPherson won the 10km, cross-country and half marathon walks in his age division.

Penny Purcell (Tauranga) cleaned up in the walking events in 2011 and the 52-year-old will be tough to roll again, assisted by Suzanne DeRoles (Tauranga).

Cycling features Blair Johnstone from Mt Maunganui and 77-year-old Robert Cammock from Rotorua, who did well in 2011.

Organisers are confident the entry total will a least mirror that of the 6004 achieved in 2011 - the last time the games were held in Wanganui.

On Monday the standing total was 4427, and event manager Mike Cronin said 1800 people entered in the final three weeks of 2011.

"We're tracking around the 6000-mark at present and that was what we were targeting," said Cronin.

Cronin says sports like bocce, dog-handling, gymnastics, softball and the Twilight 400 had all bettered their previous Games' figures.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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