Fresh from her 30th City to Surf, Judy Kenyon, 77, has a simple message: “Keep going.”
“Just because we’re a certain age doesn’t mean we have to stop,” said the Blackheath walking veteran.
Mrs Kenyon has been active all her life and was converted to race walking by her husband, George, who taught her the rather awkward looking “heel first” style of competitive walking.
She is a familiar figure around the streets of Blackheath. “People say to me, oh you’re the woman who does the funny walk,” she said.
It’s a “funny walk” that has taken her to numerous masters games, at state, national and international level, the most recent the Australian Masters in Darwin, where she set three new records for her 75-79 age group.
Mrs Kenyon married George in 1974 at a time when he was competing in 20- and 50-kilometre race walks.
“When I married, he would get up at 5am to go to Bondi. It was, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, so I joined him,” she said.
When they moved to the Mountains in the early 1980s, Mrs Kenyon took her daughter, Michelle, to little athletics at Katoomba. She started the senior club at Katoomba.
She was also a coach, notably of Bullaburra’s Ben St Lawrence, a long distance runner who competed in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.
“I’m so proud of him,” she said.
George died in 1999 and, after a very difficult six months, Mrs Kenyon took a hard look at her life.
“I thought, get a grip, so I started training and went to the Australian championships in Hobart [the Australian Masters Games].”
She competed in the 5000m track walk event and 10k road event and won silver in both.
“Everyone wondered, where has she come from,” she said. “I’d just been training up and down Govetts Leap Road [in Blackheath].”
She went on to compete in various masters events, winning medals as often as not, and thoroughly enjoying the camaraderie.
“It’s like a family,” she said. “When you’re in a race, they say, ‘go Jude, go’, even if they’re in the same race.”
She has also started various walking clubs, including at Blackheath, at Lawson Neighbourhood Centre and the Women’s Health Centre at Katoomba, and loved sharing her joy of exercise and its health benefits with others.
She still trains most days, though usually takes one day off a week to rest.
The oldest athlete she ever knew was Ruth Frith, who was still competing at 103 in throw events (javelin, discus, shot put).
Frith died in 2014 but Mrs Kenyon still recalls her mantra: “If you think you can’t, you won’t but if you think you can, you will.”
These days, her inspiration is a Gold Coast couple who also compete in masters games. They are Maurice and Christiane Dauphinet, 91 and 85 years old respectively.
If she is still going at their age, she’ll remain a very happy walker.