Australian Masters Games

"I don’t want to define myself by age, or let age define me"

Anneliese Abela - 3 October 2015

It’s never too late for 88-year-old Games veteran Heather Lee, who believes you should never let your age define you.

This is the tenth Games for the race walker from Richmond, who in 2014 was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to the Masters Games and for raising money for cancer research.

Lee’s first Games were in Adelaide in 2005, where she entered into four different race walking events, having never participated in the sport before. 

It wasn’t until she returned home that she realised how well she had done.

“When I got back to Sydney a local magazine rang me; they had looked up relative records and said I was really close to beating world records,” Lee said.

“I had never even considered that but then I thought, beating them is possible.”

Lee broke her first Australian record in 2012, and continued to break national records until the Pan Pacific Masters Games where she broke the world record in the 3km and 5km.

“I finally broke the Australian record for the 10km again in Canberra in 2013, taking twelve minutes off the previous record,” she said.

“I’ve got all the Australian medals in this particular age group and two world records, and that’s a tremendous achievement I think. And getting the Order of Australia Medal, I’m very proud of that.”

Yesterday Lee added another achievement to her list, beating the current world record time for 10km running in the 85-90 age group.

Walking the 10km in 1:26:17, Lee was faster than the running result of 1:26:33, shaving sixteen seconds off of the record time.

Apart from her success in the Masters Games, Lee was awarded the medal for her continued dedication and efforts in raising money for cancer research through Relay for Life.

“I’ve been doing Relay for Life for over ten years now, since it’s local inauguration; I walk all night, up to 80km in total over twenty-four hours.

“I lost my husband to cancer, which prompted me to start raising money,” she said.

“It was such a shock when we discovered he had it; during that time you have a lot of things to think about, and one of them was that one day I was going to be all on my own, so it became more important for me to get fit and remain fit.”

The Games aim to promote the benefits of long-term health and wellbeing, which Lee believes become more and more important as we get older.

“Age is like a disability, but I don’t want to define myself by age, or let age define me,” she said.

“I value my independence and live on my own – to do that you have to be very fit and healthy. Which is why I love the Games, it’s one of the things that keep me going.”

Keeping fit and breaking records aren’t the only reasons Lee keeps coming back to the Games, however; it is the friendships and the connections with other participants that she loves every time.

“I enjoy the camaraderie when I come here, it’s fantastic,” she said.

“I think it’s more of a challenge for us older people, and I love it because we all seem to pick one another out to have a chat. There’s no way I was going to miss Adelaide this year.”

Lee participated in the W85 5km race walking event on Saturday, finishing with a time of 43 minutes and 55 seconds.

And she is showing no signs of slowing down as she reaches her eighty-ninth birthday, instead thinking towards what the future holds.

“The World Masters Games is next year so I’m hoping I can stay fit long enough so that I will be able to go.”

“But for now I’ll find ways to keep myself busy. I recently had my flat renovated, of course I did it myself, and I even painted my kitchen cupboards.”

“You feel good when you accomplish something, it’s an achievement. You don’t just give up and say I’m too old, you get out there and do it; that’s why I love the Games.”

The 15th Australian Masters Games are being held in Adelaide, October 3-10, featuring more than 10,000 participants from across Australia and around the world.

The Australian Masters Games is proudly sponsored by the South Australian Tourism Commission through Events South Australia.

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