Despite the pandemic, members of Greyhounds Masters Track & Field Club have found a way to train outdoors and stay active on the track at North Surrey Secondary.
The 22-year-old club counts some record holders among its nearly 100 members, which range in age from 35 to 90 and are among the most inspirational athletes you’ll ever meet.
Newton-area resident Renate Cheetham, 83, was among Greyhound athletes given a 2020 Outstanding Athletic Performance award by BC Athletics, for her Canadian record-breaking W80 one-mile racewalk performance at Bear Creek Park last September, in a time of 12:26.55 in smoky conditions.
The in-club, BC Athletics-sanctioned meet was a rare one for the club during the ongoing pandemic.
“I haven’t been doing the (racewalk) event that long, maybe the second year now,” said Cheetham, a member of the Greyhounds for seven years.
“I broke a record that stood for a long time, so that makes me very happy. I didn’t think I could do it but Harold (Morioka, club coach and co-founder) kept saying, ‘You can do it,’ and when the adrenaline kicks in, yes, you can do it. He timed my first lap and it was under what I thought I could do, and then I got encouraged.”
We bet you can't walk a mile in her shoes! In 2020, Renate Cheetham set a new CANADIAN 🇨🇦 record in the W80
1⃣ Mile Racewalk. Congratulate Renate on this Outstanding Athletic Performance.#BCAthleticsAwards pic.twitter.com/2ybN40rJ7X
— BC Athletics (@BC_Athletics) February 6, 2021
Club president Urith Hayley is another 2020 BC Athletics Award winner, for Outstanding Service, for work to deliver 50 tablets to residents of long-term care homes, mostly in Surrey, as a COVID project with Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors program. The computers allowed seniors to be able to contact loved ones during the pandemic, and also access exercise programs linked to the club’s website.
“We’re not practicing as a club now, because we aren’t allowed to, only a maximum of 10 per group,” Hayley, a member of the club since the early 2000s, said on a recent Thursday morning on the North Surrey track, to which she travels from Coquitlam.
“Some people come down here on certain days, and others go to Coquitlam, some to Burnaby,” Hayley added. “We are the only club like this in B.C., for masters, the largest, so we have members in Kamloops, on the Island and other places. They may not come here to train, but they are members and when we go to a meet, they compete as Greyhounds, are part of our team.”
The club started in 1999 in Coquitlam, and moved to North Surrey in 2006, according to Morioka, a sprinter inducted into B.C. Athletics Hall of Fame a few years ago.
Morioka and the others hope B.C.’s vaccination program will allow club members to soon practice together in groups of more than 10 at a time, on Thursday and Saturday mornings.
“We do running drills, throws and hurdles and usually rain or shine, unless it’s heavy rain,” explained Sheila Allison, 76, who lives in Cloverdale.
“We train year-round here,” added fellow Greyhound Deborah Lee. “We used to go inside at Guildford rec centre, but that’s not allowed during the pandemic, so we’re outside all the time right now. There have been a few days when it’s so miserable outside that we just say, ‘Forget it, let’s go for coffee,’” she said with a laugh.
Lee did some track in high school but didn’t discover the Greyhounds until she was about to turn 60.
“I thought, ‘I don’t want this (birthday) to be depressing, I want this to be a positive thing,” she recalled. “I found out about the club and joined after my 60th birthday. I think a lot of people are like me, who maybe dabbled in track in high school or other sports, and now they have some time and then hear about the club. But some people never did track or anything like that.”
Securing funds that allowed the purchase of 4⃣7⃣ tablets for seniors homes to help seniors stay active and connected during COVID, BC Athletics is pleased to recognize Urith Hayley as providing Outstanding Service as an Administrator!#BCAthleticsAwards pic.twitter.com/FeepV5L6dE
— BC Athletics (@BC_Athletics) February 3, 2021
Last year, Surrey resident Cindy O’Brien Hugh broke the BC Masters record in the W60 80-metre hurdles, at age 62.
Lenore Montgomery, who recently entered the W90 age group, set a new world record in the 1500m, with a time of just over 12 minutes, 34 seconds.
Another Surrey-area athlete, Denise Begg, 70, became a club member last summer and now excels at throwing.
Other Greyhounds who won BC Athletics awards in 2020 include Montgomery, Sam Walker and Dmitry Babenko. Their bios are posted on the club website, greyhoundstrack.com.
“We are hoping to host a meet this August at Bear Creek Park,” Hayley said, “because hopefully everyone who comes will be vaccinated by that time. Everybody is crossing their fingers for that to happen.”
Whenever the next sanctioned meet happens, Cheetham will be aiming to break a 1,500-metre racewalk record that has stood for a long time.
“It’s almost like running, that speed,” she said. “Both feet have to be on the ground and you have to straighten out your knee – you can’t bend your knee. You can’t run – you get disqualified if you run.”
Cheetham said she was a really good swimmer at a young age, but got into track after her husband got sick and was no longer able to be active.
“I thought, ‘I have to still do something and be active,’ so this is what it was. It makes me happy.”