IT’S the day before 82-year-old Garry Humpherson’s cycle trip – a trip he will start from his home in Whakatane, and return from, he estimates, in five or six days time. Maybe a week?
He’s not yet sure. But cycling the 560-odd kilometres around the entire East Cape is something he’s been planning for a while and he’s ready for it.
“I’ve wanted to do it for a long time, “ says Garry, using the day to get his last pieces of gear together and make the final checks on his bike. “Gloria’s not too happy,” he says of his wife. “But I am excited. And she’s off on a girls weekend so she’ll be fine.”
At 82, Garry appears in great shape for the long ride ahead. He’s planning on seven or eight hours cycling a day, bunking down in his tent at night. “I don’t know where, yet. I’ll work it out as I go.”
But planning the trip is a familiar process for the man who has been a keen and competitive cyclist for over 60 years, has cycled the majority of New Zealand’s popular – and not so popluar – long-distance routes, and who has a “bucket load” of medals gained from the sport with a couple of world records to boot. He took a world title in 2007 at the Masters Track Cycling World Championship in Sydney, winning the 2000 metre individual track pursuit for the 70-plus age group and breaking a world record at the same time.
The win couldn’t be formally recognised, Garry says. He hadn’t taken the required drug test afterwards to formalise it. Not expecting to have done so well, he says he couldn’t believe it when he won, and heard the announcement over the public address system,”and that’s a world record.”
“It was fantastic, but when they said I needed to take a drug test and that it was going to cost $700 Australian, I decided not to do it. I’d just spent a lot of money on my bike and on the trip to get there and I didn’t want to spend any more. I knew I didn’t need that test and that’s all that mattered.”
Returning to the event the following year, however, winning the same event, and again, breaking a world record, Garry did take the drug test, formalising his second win, at least.
And while those wins stand out for Garry, they sit alongside others. Mostly, he says, they have been won over the past couple of decades. His latest achievement was becoming national age group champion in the 80-plus section. “I do better now than I did when I was younger,” he says. I was always up there, but I didn’t quite get the first places.”
Garry started cycling competitively as an 18-year-old, taking up the sport after, following his rugby-mad father around rugby fixtures, but being unable to play the game himself due to a childhood foot injury.
“I decided I needed my own sport and that it was going to be either rowing or cycling.”
Cycling won out. “I was too small for a rower.” From his hometown of Wellington. he went on to compete over the following decade in whatever events he could, undertaking numerous long-distance cycling trips as well.
“Having a young family changed things,” he says. Marrying Gloria, and with the couple going on to have four children, he says like many others at that stage of life, he gave his sport up.
“That’s what we do, isn’t it,” he says. “When you have a family, you get busy with a lot of other things. You focus on your children and tend to give up sport. And even other interests, an instrument you’ve always played and things like that. You see it happen all the time”
While Garry says that as a cyclist, “you can’t just go off cycling 100s of kilometres every week leaving your wife at home to do everything”. “That’s unfair and puts too much pressure on a family.” Yet at the same time, he says, “it’s a shame that these things go by the wayside because it is then that adults begin the slippery slope to becoming unfit. I think it’s a big cost.”
When Garry returned to cycling in his 50s, he and Gloria’s children now grown and independent, he was in for a shock he says he’ll never forget.
“I was very unfit by then. I’d huff and puff just digging the garden.” But re-joining his cycle club and taking up regular cycling again, it wasn’t long before he noticed a big difference.
Instead of finding it hard work to dig the garden, he says he was soon able to “go for a long ride, come home and dig the garden, and do it all before breakfast.”
“I just felt great. I felt so much better that I made a decision then and there to never give up cycling again.” And he hasn’t
These days, Garry rides two or three times a week, 50 or 60 kilometres each time. Other days he walks, often trekking the bird walk with a group of regular walkers or carrying out voluntary work to maintain the track. He sometimes cycles to Ohope, walks from West End to Otarawairere and back, cycles down to Port Ohope for a swim before cycling home, via Burma road. “It’s not hard if you’ve kept your fitness up.”
”We live in such a beautiful place and I think cycling or walking are great ways to enjoy it all and keep fit at the same time. People travel overseas and go on cruises and so on, but I think we have such a beautiful country right here and I like to be fit enough to enjoy it.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Gloria. A keen quilter and paper crafter, it was long ago she says, that she decided she was spending too much time sitting to work on her pieces.
Today, she has racked up a staggering 1400 visits to Curves Gym, all within the past seven years. And now, aged 78, she says, “I feel so much better for it”.
And she, too, still has her time on the saddle of a bike, but only now, she says, to get to and from the gym. Though she has had a stint in the limelight too, Garry points out.
Partaking in a Masters cycling event in Dunedin some years ago – “why not,” she says.
Gloria medalled in both a time trial as well as a race, a success she achieved in other time trials as well.
The couple say they have their “health ups and downs” like everyone else. Though Garry says he doesn’t take a single pill, Gloria says she takes enough for the both of them. “But we’ve been lucky,” they both agree, though it is clear the two have worked hard at creating what they refer to as “luck”
Garry and Gloria moved to Whakatane a decade ago to be closer to their grandchildren, and to enjoy the outdoor environment on the Eastern Bay.
By Lorraine Wilson