Life-long cyclist still going strong
Alexandra athlete John Greener looks a typical cyclist as he speeds down the road - trim, fit and fast.
But not many 78-year-olds are donning lycra and heading out for 40km rides in rain, hail and snow in training for their 11th New Zealand Masters Tournament.
The road and track cycling fanatic will join seven others aged more than 75 from Central Otago who have signed up for the tournament in Dunedin from February 1 to 9.
Mr Greener has been training since winter for the tournament, practising sprinting, time-trialling and pursuits.
"Cycling is not a sport you just turn up and hope to do well. You have to do the preparation. It gets harder as I get older there is no doubt about it, but you have a good attitude and it keeps me away from the garden and out of housework."
Mr Greener had not only practised on rural roads around Alexandra, but he was a regular at the Highlands Motorsport Park and had travelled to Invercargill and Mosgiel to ride on the velodromes, he said.
"It is not the easiest sport in the world. It is recognised along with rowing and one of the hardest sports. You have to do so many kilometres of training and it's not comfortable. I trained with my son over Christmas - we did a few sprints and he beat me of course but I thought ‘hang on - I'm 35 years older than him'."
Mr Greener started cycling at 16 and was addicted from the start, he said.
"I was watching cycling at the old Caledonian Ground in Dunedin and got talked into it by Ivan Berry [a one-time champion and secretary of the Kiwi Amateur Cycling Club]. I was always keen on rugby and cricket but cycling just grabs hold of you."
A career highlight was winning the A grade elimination race before the Queen Mother at the Caledonian Games in Invercargill in 1958.
NZ Masters Games Manager Vicki Kestila said there were 174 competitors aged over 75 competing at this year's games in a variety of events including euchre, athletics, rowing, swimming, croquet, curling, bowls, golf, dancesport, tennis, cycling, clay target shooting, salt water fishing, petanque, darts, cue sports, equestrian, squash, table tennis, archery, softball and marching.
Some competitors had entered in more than one sport, she said.
"We are expecting between 5500 and 6000 competitors in total. This year we have 16 competitors over 85 registered. The Masters Games is an environment where you can compete against your peers no matter your age. It always impresses me the number of people who come back to the event year after year just for the opportunity to be involved in the games.
"People compete in the Masters for various reasons, whether it's to stand on the podium, improve your personal best, catch up with friends - this is true no matter what your age."