Sally Gibbs

Photo courtesy of Nesport Photography.

New Zealand distance runner Sally Gibbs has proved being a later-starter is no bar to success. We chat to the Katikati-based athlete about how masters competition has helped transform her life.

If ever a story best epitomised the value and inspiration of competing in masters sport, it is that of Sally Gibbs.

Less than enthusiastic about sport in her younger days, “I used to throw a sickie to dodge competing in school cross country races,” she confesses.

It was only after taking her kids to numerous swimming meets that Sally – then aged in her 30s - decided to chance her arm competing in masters swimming competitions.

“Competing in masters events was my introduction to sport,” explains Sally, 51, who works part-time as a journalist. “I found I really enjoyed the atmosphere. Everyone is very encouraging and you never feel inadequate.”

‘Competent rather than competitive’ in the pool in 2009 she decided to try out for a triathlon. To her great surprise she discovered she was best suited to the running element. Later in the year Sally further revealed her undiscovered talent by running a respectable time of 3:31 at the Rotorua Marathon.

With a naturally “competitive streak” she joined the Tauranga Ramblers started to train more seriously and later that year at the World Masters Games in Sydney – grabbed silver medals in the 5000m and half-marathon and  bronze in the 800m and 1500m. It proved memorable experience.

“It was amazing and just mind-boggling to think how many people compete at a World Masters Games,” Sally explains. “The Sydney event was billed as the largest sporting event to ever be held (note, more than 28,000 athletes competed at the event).

“I met fellow athletes who had competed at a world and Olympic level. It was a good melting pot, but I also learned as an athlete that you don’t need to be at the very top level to enjoy it.”

Since that first taste of the World Masters Games her athletics career has gone from strength to strength.

In 2012 she secured the NZ senior 10,000m title on her home track in Tauranga, set an impressive marathon PB of 2:41:15 to take the Oceania title at the Gold Coast Marathon and also competed for her country at the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy.

Last year she secured W50 gold medals in the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon at the 2013 World Masters Athletics Championships in Brazil. This season her victory in the women’s race at the 50th anniversary Rotorua Marathon in 2:45:59 was another highlight.

She has since gone on to become the first woman to secure the New Zealand title for both the marathon (which she achieved in Rotorua) and half-marathon in the same year with victory in Wellington in June and she shows no sign of stopping.

Among future big events on her wish list include the 2015 World Masters Athletics Championships in France and, of course, the 2017 World Masters Games in Auckland.

Sally fully intends to compete in the “City of Sails” in both track and road events and says the event presents a unique opportunity for Kiwis.

“I would say, how often do we (New Zealanders) have a world championships on our own doorstep? It is a great chance to make the most of an opportunity close to home.”