12 Feb 2021

Masters Games athletes put through their paces in Whanganui

2:38 pm on 12 February 2021

Almost 5000 athletes, many grey at temple and even more tight of muscle, have been put through their paces at the New Zealand Masters Games in Whanganui this week.

Badminton players Graham Neilson and Leanne Smith compete at the New Zealand Masters Games in Whanganui.

Badminton players Graham Neilson and Leanne Smith compete at the New Zealand Masters Games in Whanganui. Photo: Robin Martin / RNZ

Participants aged between 20 and 94 years old have been competing in 56 sports ranging from cowboy action shooting to jigsaw puzzle racing and most everything in-between.

The Downer NZ Masters Games, which alternate between Dunedin and Whanganui on a biennial basis, prides itself on offering great sporting competition but also providing the opportunity to make great mates.

It's a philosophy not lost on games manager Rachel O'Connor.

"It could be anyone from your well-trained athlete to just somebody getting out there for the first time.

"Our first time entrants this year are about 39 percent of our overall entries, so just short of 2000 so it's fantastic to see them giving this event a go, but yeah it's literally anyone and everyone."

And they're not all old-timers.

"So each sport has a minimum age. We've got a couple of sports that start at 20 otherwise around that 30 to 35 mark, so it's a lot younger than you would expect.

"And we've had a huge growth in the 30 to 39 which we've been targeting as our up coming masters, so it's good to see people are realising they can compete which has been fantastic."

Netballer Dwayne Maraki at the New Zealand Masters Games in Whanganui.

Netballer Dwayne Maraki. Photo: Robin Martin / RNZ

Netballer Dwayne Maraki was on the bench for Whanganui's Chur Chur Whanau.

The 34-year-old had his eyes on the prize.

"It looks like we are going to take it out and get the gold so that'll be good too."

But taking part was important too.

"It gets you out amongst the community and I don't know you get a bit of a sweat up as well and I'm too young to actually play anything else."

Across at the badminton the shuttlecocks were flying in the over-55 teams event.

Graham Neilsen of the Bay of Plenty's Krazy Kodgers reckoned the sport was keeping him young.

"It's incredibly physical. You're skill levels have got to be really up there and it takes a lot of mental focus.

"And as we age those are all the sorts of things that start to decline, so we're trying to delay that. That's why we are Krazy Kodgers."

It was about more than winning for his mixed double's partner Leanne Smith.

"Camaraderie. It's the people and just the fact that we all love keeping fit and yeah when we travel we catch up with people we've seen over the years, so it's a pretty good place to meet up with people."

Kelly Martin had travelled all the way from Southland.

"Table tennis is what we play. That's what I play. And why the Masters? Because it's old guys having a crack at it and I'm learning as fast as I possibly can. These are some wily old guys.

"Friendship, camaraderie. It's great. It's a whole bunch of guys and girls doing it and we've done it for years and it's great. It's fun."

Table tennis player Kelly Martin at the New Zealand Masters Games.

Table tennis player Kelly Martin. Photo: Robin Martin / RNZ

One of those wily old guys was Palmerston North's Jim Jarmin.

A masterly 82 years young - his reason for being there was simple enough.

"Because I enjoy the sport. It's a very expressive sport and I do enjoy the feel of the ball on the bat."

And wherever there is sports there's an after match function, right, as Francie Bayler can attest.

One of 150 games volunteers, the 80 year-old has helped out at the event since the 1990s.

"They have a quiz night and then they have live music or a band for later on and there's usually dancing and the food goes on.

"When we were out at Springvale it used to go on a fair bit and then there was a lot of complaints about the noise from locals, but I mean it was noisy there was no getting away from it."

The NZ Masters Games, which has an economic impact calculated at $3 million to Whanganui, continues until Sunday.

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