Tina proves it’s never too late to start something great

Published on 31 July 2023

John and Tina at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Anyone who’s serious about the competitive world of long-distance running will have heard of the Comrades Marathon. To many, it is the long-distance run, the often-elusive gem in every runner’s crown. Since 1921, this 89km ultramarathon has pushed thousands of runners to their absolute limits, testing the physical and mental strength of even the most seasoned athletes.

It’s no wonder it’s known as “the Ultimate Human Race”.

Located in South Africa, the Comrades Marathon connects the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg, with the direction of the race alternating each year. While the “down” run is slightly longer, some hard-line runners argue that you haven’t truly completed the Comrades Marathon until you have conquered the debatably more gruelling “up” run.

As such, many runners will take their place on the Comrades Marathon starting line at least twice in their life – and in 2007, one of the runners lining up for their first round with this formidable course was AccessCare client, Tina.

Tina started running in 1985, when she was 45 years of age, after she and her husband John moved from Ballarat to Melbourne. When documenting her running career many years later, Tina wrote that in those early days, she could only manage a few hundred metres at a time. However, she enjoyed the challenge and freedom running offered, and began taking part in three and five kilometre fun runs with John over the next few years.

“We used to look at the calendar of running events every week to see what was on, and away we’d go,” says John. The more they competed, the more Tina improved, and soon she was winning races right across Melbourne in her age group.

“Not only could she run, but she could run well,” says John, who notes that as more of a sprinter himself, he soon found himself unable to keep up with Tina, especially after she discovered a love for longer distances. However, he was always there on the sidelines and at home, her tireless fan and teammate.

“I used to unofficially call myself her coach, motivator and bag carrier,” John says with a laugh. 

Tina runs across the MCG at the Melbourne Marathon, with the stadium and other runners in the background.

In 1989, at 49 years of age, Tina pushed herself to compete in her very first marathon.

“Tina set her mind to doing the Melbourne Marathon, back in the day when it was from Frankston to Melbourne,” John recalls. “I drove along the highway and would pop out at different places and give her a wave, and then get back in the car and keep driving.

“I was able to stop and wave to her around four times [during the race].”

Tina crossed the finish line in a very respectable three hours and 39 minutes. However, three years later, Tina smashed this time and achieved her career personal best by finishing the People’s Marathon in Melbourne in three hours and 18 minutes.

Her appetite for running could not be satiated over the ensuing years, and in 2006, at 61 years of age, Tina completed her first ultramarathon, running 50km in four hours and 21 minutes. Not only is this an impressive feat in its own right, but it was actually a Women’s 60+ Age Group World Record. This would set the stage for the greatest endurance challenge Tina would take on: the Comrades Marathon in June 2007.

The race started at 5am in pitch black and freezing temperatures – Tina’s outfit actually consisted of a black garbage bag over her running clothes for the first few kilometres while she warmed up. The energy from the event, however, was electric, and Tina recorded a number of race highlights and milestones in her race memoir.

“[Spectators] would call my name and ask where I was from. When I proudly called ‘Australia’, there would be a chant of ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!’. I turned back with an ‘Oi, Oi, Oi!’ and was buoyed by the friendly exchange.

“Right from the start, youngsters would put out their hand and I would high five them – I must have done 100 or more. It is all a big part of the spirit of Comrades.”

Of course, her number one fan was once again John. As Tina wrote, “I can see the halfway banner ahead and there is John, with his camera and a banana and a drink.”

Tina continued without much trouble for the rest of the race, until she reached the 2km to go marker. At this point, she cramped quite badly in her right leg, and had to stop altogether. However, again in the spirit of the event, another runner stopped with Tina and handed her a sachet of massage oil, which, “just like a miracle”, immediately cured the cramp. As Tina poetically mused in her race memoir, “it’s not always just yourself that may benefit from what you carry with you.”

The final 300m of the race took runners onto the grass of the Durban Stadium, and as Tina wrote, “that final 300m was the very best part of the wonderful event for me.” After crossing the finish line with an astounding time of eight hours, 49 minutes and 55 seconds, Tina’s first instinct was to look for John. “I searched the crowd milling around the finish for John to share this moment with me. There on cue he appeared, beaming with pride and love as his camera recorded as much as a camera can of such a moment.”

Tina’s incredible result saw her finish first in the Women’s 60+ Age Category, and tenth in the Women’s Top Ten Novice Results. However, as this event was in the “down” year of the Comrades Marathon, Tina was determined to come back again, and in 2011, crossed the finish line as a competitor in the Comrades Marathon “up” year, at 71 years of age.

“You never know what’s around the corner,” muses John, noting that they originally learnt of the Comrades Marathon after a delivery driver who was from South Africa mentioned it to them after hearing Tina was into running. In life, you never know where you’ll find inspiration, or what little moments will bring about new chapters and new challenges.

This proved to be painfully true when a few years after Tina’s second Comrades triumph, she received a devastating dementia diagnosis.

Tina's dementia sadly brought an end to her running career, and to her days of joyously running off on her own for hours at a time. While this was of course a difficult adjustment for Tina, she was still able to find some solace along her favourite track, the Mordialloc Creek Trail, as she and her teammate John could together enjoy leisurely walks along this local trail for a few years more.

Tina runs across the finish line at the Gold Coast Marathon, with the timer showing3 hours, 19 minutes and 50 seconds. These days, a framed photo of Tina at the peak of her running career sits in John and Tina’s living room to remind them daily of Tina’s own indomitable spirit. A compendium of training notes, travel schedules and newspaper clippings is also as treasured as Tina’s many competition medals. For Tina and John, being able to remain at home where these memories are close at hand is important, and AccessCare is humbly committed to supporting them to do so.

In her racing memoir, Tina wrote poignantly about her love for running, and how her decision to take up a brand-new hobby at 45 years of age ended up being one of the most transformative decisions of her life.

“[I run] to enjoy the freedom from day-to-day matters where I can be alone with my thoughts and close to my surrounds. It is relaxing and time I look forward to.

“My goal is to be the best I can be and to teach others by example that they too can bring mind, body and soul together in harmony to achieve whatever they aspire to.”

Photos (top of page to bottom):

  1. Tina and John at the Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with family in 2019.
  2. Tina entering the MCG at the end of the Melbourne Marathon.
  3. Tina crossing the finishing line at the Gold Coast Marathon, which was one of her favourite events.
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