Golden gran defies odds to compete

BRENDON EGAN
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2012

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When Invercargill great-grandmother Shirley Bellew underwent a quadruple bypass seven years ago, she could easily have opted for the comfort of the armchair and a quieter pace of life.

Instead, the operation acted as a catalyst for the 77-year-old to get back into competitive sport and the challenge of the gym every morning.

Over the past four years, Bellew has excelled at indoor rowing, winning four gold medals in the 300m, 500m, 1000m and 2000m events of the 75-80 age group at the New Zealand Masters Games in Dunedin earlier this year.

She was something of a natural when she started in the sport, also claiming four gold medals in her first competition at the South Island Games in Timaru in 2008 - and that spurred her on.

Bellew is remarkable woman, who has overcome several significant health problems during her life.

She suffered three strokes between the ages of 56 and 68 then, in 2005, she required quadruple bypass surgery after a series of heart attacks.

Since her early 20s, she has also been a diabetic.

Bellew was a talented sprinter in her youth, breaking a Southland women's 200m record and also attending the New Zealand track and field championships.

She put her sporting ambitions on the back-burner while her six children were growing up, then rediscovered her passion for sport again later in life.

Bellew's daughter, Jacqui van Dam, formerly rowed for the Waihopai club and is president of the Dunstan Arm Rowing Club in Alexandra.

After her quadruple bypass, Bellew began attending the YMCA gym in an effort to remain healthy.

She says she instantly fell in love with indoor rowing because it meant she did not have to run, jump or throw.

"Indoor rowing was the only vigorous event I could do because of the strokes. It went on from there. I've been doing it for four years.

"I wouldn't row on the river. I'd probably fall in and drown," she said, laughing.

Every weekday, Bellew heads to the gym at 7am and carries out her regime, which consists of a 2000m session on the rowing machine and weight work with dumbbells.

Bellew is the third-eldest member of the gym and said she had forged many friendships over the past four years.

A recent bad fall left her with a fractured vertebrae, which put her out of action for six weeks. However, she has bounced back from this latest setback and returned to train at the YMCA yesterday.

Bellew has some advice for other seniors.

"Get out of the chair and get moving," she said.

"I think there's far too many of them sitting around waiting to die."

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Bellew competes in the New Zealand Masters Games only when they are in the South Island, so will not be taking part next year.

She plans to line up in 2014, however, to try to add more shiny gold medals to her burgeoning collection.

- The Southland Times

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