Oakura's Ivor Ellis has clocked up a few miles over the years. The veteran race walker may be slowing down, but he still found time to sit and have a chat with sports editor Murray Hills.
Ivor Ellis may be slowing down, but he's still one step ahead of most.
The 90-year-old from Oakura is a regular at walking events around Taranaki competing every Tuesday over the summer months at the Egmont Athletic Club's weekly meeting.
The rest of the year, he's out walking with the Taranaki Race Walkers Club at various events around the province and beyond.
"I've slowed down a bit. Where I used to do the 1500m in 11 minutes, I'm now doing it in 14 minutes. That's not too bad. The time doesn't matter any more," he said this week.
"I got into race walking when I stopped smoking . . . 28 years ago. If I hadn't smoked, I'd have been much faster. That's a fact. Anyone who smokes needs their head read. I should know. I was in the Navy and they used to say, ‘smoke up boys, you're winning.' They dished out plenty of smokes."
Ellis said he served in the Royal Navy during WWII.
"I served with the Navy for 10 years, from 1942 to 1952. The later part of the North African campaign, the Italian campaign and then in the south of France," he said. "I was on a minesweeper. Eighteen of us went away and 18 of us came back. That's a pretty good record."
Of the 18, Ellis said only he and Reg Menzies, who lives in Bolton in England, were still alive.
"I'm the oldest, Reg is 11 months younger. He's got the ship's ensign . . . you don't call it a flag in the Navy. He said, when he goes to heaven he will send it [the ensign] to me."
Ellis said there were a few close calls during the war years.
"We were meant to go to Bari Harbour in Italy, but we got diverted. That day, 15 ships went up, one was carrying mustard gas. That stuff was taboo," he said. "We arrived there the next day, we were lucky we hadn't arrived early."
But there were also other moments he remembers clearly.
"We were in Naples when Mt Vesuvius erupted in 1944.
"We were covered in lava dust. It was everywhere."
Ellis also recalls a couple of rescues at sea.
"We picked up three German sailors in a rowing boat one day. They had a sail up. We gave them a pot of tea and some biscuits when they got on board. We then took them to France and handed them over to the French. They weren't treated so well then," he said.
"On another occasion we picked up an American pilot. He had bailed out of a P38. We had him on board for a week and he said he would rather be up top. He didn't like being on the water. We dropped him off in Sicily. All he had was his overalls, his side arm and a parachute. He chopped the parachute up and gave it us. They were made of silk. My piece ended up with an Italian girl, I think she made it into a dress."
Welsh by birth, Ellis said he came to New Zealand nearly 60 years ago.
"I came by boat and arrived in New Plymouth. I thought, this will do me. I stayed here and got married. We moved from Gill St to Oakura soon after. I've lived in Oakura for 56 years, I'm right on the beach, fourth back from the river.
"I'll be here till they carry me out."
Ellis said there were only a few baches at Oakura when he moved there.
"We had an outside dunny back then. It's certainly changed now. It was Maori lease back then, we bought our property off them for £2500."
Ellis said he still spoke Welsh.
"I correspond with Jean Moseley in New Plymouth. I ring her up for a chat but sometimes I break into English."
Ellis said when he first arrived in New Plymouth he worked for Downer, Morrison and Hudson, an American firm.
"They built the new wharf at Port Taranaki, the one nearest the main breakwater. Eight shillings and six pence an hour . . . good money. It was quite a good job, I was mostly on the winch."
Ellis, who is fiercely independent, lives on his own, cooks, and still drives a car.
"Some wonder about me driving. I drive into New Plymouth most days, it's not a problem. It's all up here [pointing to his head]. If you've got plenty to do, you don't worry. I'm busy all the time. I cook for myself and I make good Christmas cakes."
Ellis said the Taranaki Race Walking Club was the strongest in New Zealand.
"We've got some good talent here. We do the Round the Mountain relay and the Marton to Wanganui relay. I do the Rahotu to Pungarehu leg, that's a good 5km. I've been in that position for many years," he said.
"On the Wanganui one, I have a 5km stretch but it's downhill. You win some, you lose some."
Walking was key to his good health.
"You have to keep active. I keep pretty good health. I have a check-up every 12 months to get my warrant of fitness."
Ellis also does a little bit of tramping.
"I used to belong to the New Plymouth Tramping Club, but I've finished with them. I'm now with the New Plymouth Women's Institute Tramping Club . . . they've let men in. We do a few farm walks, we don't go near the mountain."
One thing you can count on is Ellis being out in front in his age group - he's the only one in Taranaki competing in the 90 plus division.
"I'll keep on walking until I conk out."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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