New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - THIS WEEK IN... - Steve Lan­dells

She’s turn­ing old into gold!

Su­per­gran Clasina van der Veeken may have only won her first ath­let­ics medal 14 years ago, but the re­mark­able oc­to­ge­nar­ian has more than made up for lost time.

Since that maiden podium ap­pear­ance, the Whangareibased masters ath­lete has won dozens of medals do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, and at the age of 87 is con­tin­u­ing to defy the sands of time with her awe-in­spir­ing achieve­ments.

Born and raised on a farm in the Nether­lands, close to the bor­der with Bel­gium, she re­calls an “ac­tive” up­bring­ing milk­ing cows and cycling.

Ar­riv­ing in Eke­tahuna in 1959, aged 28, to live on a farm with her then hus­band, Clasina later moved north to a farm in Tan­gitero­ria in the ’70s “be­cause the weather was bet­ter”. De­spite Clasina’s

en­er­getic life­style, it wasn’t un­til she re­tired from farm­ing to live in Whangarei 20 years ago that her sport­ing jour­ney be­gan – and then only by chance.

A keen recre­ational cy­clist, she took a dive over her han­dle­bars af­ter stop­ping abruptly for a car and broke her neck. Fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent, Clasina switched to com­pet­i­tive walking, fin­ish­ing a four-day event in her na­tive Nether­lands and walking the Whangarei Marathon.

How­ever, it wasn’t un­til she was 73, when a lo­cal masters ath­lete ap­proached Clasina to at­tend the North­land Masters Games, that her la­tent ath­let­ics ca­reer re­ally hit its stride.

“I didn’t know any­thing about masters ath­let­ics, but she said, ‘If you com­pete, you al­ways win a medal,’” re­calls Clasina. “I thought that would be nice. I’d never won a medal in my life.”

The great-grand­mother of three proved a nat­u­ral, reg­u­larly climb­ing the win­ners podium and quickly dis­cov­er­ing the ca­ma­raderie of the sport.

Clasina has gone on to win a bag­ful of World Cham­pi­onship and World Masters Games medals, as well as claim­ing age-group world records in the steeple­chase and for

New Zealand in the women’s

4 x 400m re­lay.

More re­cently, at the 2018 World Masters Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships in Malaga, Spain, she se­cured gold medals in the ham­mer throw and triple jump, and sil­ver in the 100m, 400m and shot put.

For Clasina, keep­ing fit is a way of life. Walking 5km ev­ery day and cycling twice a week, she also causes the odd raised eye­brow by at­tend­ing reg­u­lar stretch­ing classes at her gym.

“Some of the gym-go­ers some­times com­ment, ‘If I reach your age, I hope I’m in the same si­t­u­a­tion,’” she smiles.

A de­voted com­peti­tor at her weekly 5km park run, which she walk-runs in around 40 min­utes, Clasina also tack­les an oc­ca­sional half-marathon and trains once a week at Whangarei Ath­let­ics.

“I train with the over-60s but it’s not so se­ri­ous,” she says of her club nights. “A lit­tle bit of throw­ing and then talk­ing.”

Also com­mit­ted to a healthy diet, the ac­tive oc­to­ge­nar­ian be­lieves that her dis­ci­plined ap­proach is some­thing she picked up dur­ing her child­hood in the Nether­lands.

“As a young­ster, it was easy to eat healthily and I’ve just car­ried on,” she ex­plains. “Back then, we had no lol­lies. Now there are too many food op­tions on the mar­ket. I’m still care­ful about what I eat. I have lots of veges and some meat. I don’t eat po­ta­toes and I only have the oc­ca­sional slice of bread.

“I’ve never had di­a­betes and ex­cept for a few bro­ken bones, no ma­jor health is­sues.”

Liv­ing on her own, Clasina con­tin­ues to com­pete in ath­let­ics be­cause “I don’t get many vis­i­tors these days and you have to do some­thing”.

So what does she con­sider her favourite event?

“I like the triple jump and long jump. But I like them all. I never did the high jump. I can’t do ev­ery­thing be­cause peo­ple would say, ‘Gosh, how many events have you en­tered?’”

Clasina, who will cel­e­brate her 88th birth­day in May, also fills her time by run­ning an ex­er­cise class for the el­derly in her adopted home town and leads com­mu­nion for peo­ple in a rest home.

Show­ing no signs of slow­ing down, the ac­tive se­nior has her eye on the 2020 World Masters Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships in Canada where she hopes to re­con­nect with her brother, who lives in On­tario.

But she ad­mits mak­ing too many plans at her age is a lit­tle risky.

“It is hon­estly hard to say where my ath­let­ics story will go be­cause there are not too many peo­ple my age left any­more,” she ex­plains.

How­ever, one fact is cer­tain – for as long as she is able, Clasina wants to re­main ac­tive and has no plans to hang up her spikes just yet.

“I could do knit­ting,” she chuck­les. “But I don’t have the pa­tience for that.”

Eyes on the prize: Clasina has plans to add more ac­co­lades to her im­pres­sive col­lec­tion.

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