Thu, 12 May, 2016Melody Teh

The inspirational story of an 89-year-old athlete who has 28 gold medals

The inspirational story of an 89-year-old athlete who has 28 gold medals

Heather Lee, 89, is the oldest race walking female in Australia. She’s an inspiring master athlete with over 28 gold medals and numerous Australian and world records under her belt.

It really all began some 50 years ago when I was approaching my 40th birthday. At 15 years of age I remember believing that reaching ones 30th was to be “over the hill” so that my 40th was like a step into the unknown. Both my husband and I decided we needed to take a look at our lifestyle now that we were both in our middle years. We particularly wanted to keep our independence and quality of life as we grew older, and more especially when there was only one of us remaining. We did not live extravagantly, but with an eye to the future that perhaps there were some changes we could make. Neither of us smoked and we were only social drinkers. We listened to the experts and became more discerning with our choice of food, and meat in particular. We occasionally embarked on a weekly cleansing diet and I remember how invigorating it was and how full of vitality we felt.

By adopting healthy eating habits we did continue to live healthily and happier and maintained our level of weight, which as a woman with dread of the “middle age spread” was extremely satisfying. We were always very active people another important part to healthy living. Looking back now at the age of 89 years, it seems we did make the right choices. I have remained fit and well and regard that as living proof that with a few changes to one’s lifestyle it is the road to take. It’s all about the quality of life and the motivation.

Heather 3

After my husband died of lung cancer, although never having smoked, it left me to carry on alone. His dying words to me were that “now is the time to show your mettle”, which has been both an inspiration and motivation to me. I found that walking was good therapy and eventually entered various fun runs like the City2Surf and the Sydney Running Festival, winning in the 70-plus age group at my first attempt. I also participated in the Sutherland2Surf, Mount Annan 12km Challenge Walk and Mother’s Day Classic, all with successive wins in my age group.

Then four and a half years ago, my physiotherapist advised me to test myself in the Australian Masters Games, which were being held in Adelaide in October 2011. I came home with four gold medals having competed in some very good times. In 2012 I broke all the Australian race walk records in my age group and in November the same year I broke two world record in the 3km and 5km race walks. In 2013 I broke my own 10km race walk record again, taking 12 minutes off the previous time. In 2014, I received the Order of Australia medal for my service to the Masters Game and to my community for my involvement in Relay for Life.

This weekend I will be participating in Relay for Life for the 14th year. I will be walking for over 24 hours to raise money for cancer research. It will be in memory of my husband and the many friends who have been struck down by this most devastating disease. As one of the “lucky ones” fit and able, I feel that it is my duty to walk for people who can’t walk and for people who have lost a loved one to cancer.

I will turn 90 in November this year but I am still as determined to not only compete but compete competitively. I’m planning to take part in the Perth World Masters Athletic Championships in October this year – that’s on my bucket list for as I’ve never competed in a world event. I’ve looked at the times and if I can keep fit and well, which I plan to, they are well within my capabilities.

Heather 4

Even I get amazed at these accomplishments when I think about it. I have to look at the records to believe it sometimes. It’s not necessarily about winning medals but challenging myself and if I can come out on top then I am happy about that too. I admit I do get a thrill out of breaking records. Importantly though, it keeps me fit and active, and that to me is the most important thing. Living alone, I value my independence more than anything and to be able to do that I have to be well. I’ve kept out of the doctor’s surgery which is important to me, and another reason to do what I do as it does keep me out of the hospital, which these days is quite an accomplishment in and of itself.

I hope my story inspires you to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Keeping fit is up to every one of us and no one knows just what can be achieved if we don’t try. It is so easy to think old and put approaching age and inactivity as just a normal matter of course. But age is just a number and not a reason to slow down or to vegetate. It will also keep us mentally fit and who of us does not fear forgetfulness or dementia. So I implore people to embark on a healthier living programme and you can never start early enough. So think long and hard about lifestyle and to become more active and remain active. As the adverts say “take the stairs and not the lift” or in other words take every opportunity to exercise, you will reap the rewards later in life. Because age does have a way of creeping up on us and too late to change before we know it. I can only advise everyone to “Use it or lose it”.

If you would like to donate to Heather Lee’s Relay for Life team, please click here.

To find out more information on Heather, visit her Facebook page here.

Related links: 

Infographic of 5 astounding benefits of walking

From walking groups to tai chi, top 4 ways to stay active

5 things to look for when choosing a physio