FOR most senior citizens the golden years are spent slowing down, but not for two South Western Districts retirees who have put aside the knitting needles in favour of a javelin and a pair of running shoes.
Toy Ungerer and Heleen Knobel have just returned from Port Alegre, Brazil, where they not only participated in the World Masters Athletics Championships, but dominated in their age divisions.
Ungerer, 68, an Oudtshoorn granny of three, participated in the 65-plus age category and secured a gold medal in the 400m sprint, bronze in the 200m and another bronze for long jump – while suffering from flu.
“Luckily the 400m was the last item on the programme and after a long battle with overcoming the language barrier, many pharmacies and two injections later, I could make up for the two bronze medals and secure the gold,” said Ungerer who is the South African record holder in her age division in the 100m, 200m, 400m and long jump.
Although not a senior citizen yet, Knobel, 45, a retired farmer from between Oudtshoorn and Laingsburg, competed in the 45-plus age division and not only won gold in the weight pentathlon, silver for javelin as well as weight throw, and bronze in discus, but also broke the South African record in each discipline.
The two were among 5000 athletes from 82 countries, including 57 from South Africa, who took part in the event. South Africa placed seventh overall with 33 gold medals, 19 silver and 24 bronze.
Although both Ungerer and Knobel were star athletes in their heyday, they believed their careers came to an end as the clock ticked on.
About 42 years after the pinnacle of her athletics career, at the age of 59, Ungerer saw an advert in a local newspaper calling for volunteers to assist as track officials for a masters athletics event. “I didn’t know that masters athletics existed and the contact person convinced me to rather participate.”
Ungerer, who is also the chairwoman of SWD Masters Athletics, said now she just could not get enough. “Even the track smells nice to me.”
She said it was important for her to spread the word about masters athletics. “Youngsters must know that there is a great journey ahead of them and not find out like I did at the age of 59.
“The recipe for success is simple: enjoy what you do, have goals otherwise you will quit, support from your family and blessings from above.”