FOR some women, hitting middle age means taking up a new hobby – learning the trumpet, joining a choir or perhaps running their first half marathon.
But in her 40s mother-of-five Wilma Perkins decided to aim higher – literally – and give pole-vaulting a bash.
Now 69, the former PE teacher from Brisbane is a world record-breaking athlete and current Australian Masters Athletics president.
She took home five medals from the World Masters Athletics Championship held the Spanish coastal city of Malaga in September.
Wilma was one of 221 Australian masters athletes aged from 35 to over 90 at the event.
In the W65 age group she won silver medals in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays and bronze in pole vault and heptathlon (hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin and 800m).
Wilma took up athletics in primary school and started competing seriously in her 30s.
“I started sprinting and long jump, then in my 40s thought I’d like to try pole vault. So I rang a chap I knew who did it and he gave me some coaching.”
Over time, Wilma graduated into other events, including the throwing disciplines like shot put, discus, javelin, hammer and weight throw.
“They are lots of fun whether you are new at them or a regular. The challenge is trying to improve on your previous effort.”
It was when she was 44 and competing in Japan that Wilma was inspired to keep on going, whatever her age.
In my 40s thought I’d like to try pole vault, so I rang a chap I knew who did it and he gave me some coaching.Wilma Perkins, 67
“I was looking at the women in their 60s at the start line of a race, and realised I could do that.”
It is this dogged determination and versatility that has seen Wilma – now a grandmother – accumulate more than six world records and 51 national records in a competitive career spanning more than 30 years.
While she admits to being very driven – “I don’t think I’d be very good at not having goals” – Wilma said the competition was also about making great friends along the way.
“Some of the masters train hard and others hardly at all. It is up to the individual on what one wants to achieve.
“For some it is about being active and for others it is very social. I’ve made some great friends through participating.
“It’s about having a go.”
No holding back Marge
IMAGINE being told in your 50s that you’ll never run again.
That’s what doctors told world record-breaking athlete Marge Allison (left) after her first major knee operation when she was 54.
As the first 50-year-old woman to run 400m under 60 seconds – a record the Sunshine Coast woman still holds – that wasn’t something she was going to take lying down.
Now 74, Marge has been dubbed Australia’s “most prolific female medal winner at a world level”, setting 19 world records in seven events – 200m, 400m, 800m, 200m hurdles, 300m hurdles, 400m hurdles and 4x400m relay.
Back home she has set 59 Australian records across 19 events – including steeplechase, high jump, long jump, pentathlon and heptathlon.
I could have done better in the 400m but the whole sole of my shoe came off while I was racing!Marge Allison
And in Spain, Marge, who had a second knee operation in 2013, added five medals to her tally – gold for 200m hurdles, silver for 80m sprint hurdles, 4x100 relay and 4x400 relay, and bronze for 200m.
“I could have done better in the 400m but the whole sole of my shoe came off while I was racing!” said Marge.
After competing at school, Marge gave up sport when she married at 22 and had children. She took it up again more than a decade later, competing in triathlons and with her local veterans athletics club. Despite racing into her 70s, Marge’s competitive spirit has not dampened.
“Records are made to be broken,” she said. “As you age your times do slow down and I try not to let that happen.”
She feels “very fortunate” being able to do what she does. “But I never thought I’d be doing it for the next 40 years!”
- 8000 competitors from 102 countries
- Team Australia had 133 men and 88 women
- Australia came 5th on the medal tally with 33 gold, 36 silver and 37 bronze
- Australia had two athletes over 90
- WA's Lyn Ventris set a world record for the 5000m walk (W60).
Read more: Masters set sights on Tassie