On September 8, over 200 athletes from 101 countries gathered in Malaga for the 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships, and to accommodate the large number of athletes competing and the number events taking place, four tracks were needed as well as out-of-stadia courses for cross country, half marathon and road walks.
As for the ages of competitors, the oldest man competing was a 102-year-old Italian and the oldest woman, who was also 102, represented India.
But Michele was there to compete for Australia in three individual events – 300m hurdles, and the 400m and 200m sprints – and the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
Michele made the finals in both the 400m, where she finished fourth, and the 200m, where she finished sixth place. In the relays the teams placed just outside the medals in both events.
But it was in the finals of her main event, the 300m hurdles, where Michele surpassed all expectation. She led the field from the start, winning a gold medal and the title of World Champion. Her time of 49.49 seconds was a new Australian age group record.
In a recent interview with The Phuket News, Michele revealed that she competed internationally for Northern Ireland throughout the late 70s and was a member of the British Junior squad for the 400m hurdles in the early 80s.
“But when I finished university in 1982 I met an Aussie surfer and spent the next 20 years sailing around the world (on a 32-ft sailboat) and had two babies along the way,” she said.
“In my late forties while training for a triathlon with my teenage daughter in Phuket, I was approached and asked to represent Phuket at the upcoming Thailand Masters Athletics Championships. Since then I have competed in the Thai masters, the Singapore masters, Indonesian masters, Japanese masters and Australian masters’ competitions.
“I have also represented Australia in Oceania masters, Asian masters and three World Championships,” Michele remarked.
But then Michelle revealed that in 2017 she completely tore two of the tendons attaching to her right hamstring.
“So I missed the whole of last year, making my achievements in Malaga this year so much sweeter!
“I competed in three events (plus relays) and performed well in all three but excelled in the 300m hurdles where I ran a [personal best] and set another new Australian record,” she said.
Right now Michele is back to basic fitness training with three to four weights sessions per week, building up her gluteus and hamstrings mostly.
“I also try to go for a 5km run around Bang Wad Dam two-three times per week, plus running with the Phuket Hash House Harriers most Saturdays. I still do one track session each week working on speed or speed endurance. I also like to cycle or paddle board at least once weekly,” she said.
But Michele says her main problem with training here in Phuket is that she has no one to train with and no coach.
“Over the 10 years that I have been involved with masters’ athletics I have had to come to terms with the fact that I do it on my own or I move to a different country.
“Lack of competition is perhaps my main challenge as I sometimes go into a world championship having only competed twice that year. And every competition I do, I have to travel to, which always involves airfares and hotels, making the whole endeavour a very expensive one,” she says.
Michele says another huge challenge here is the weather and the facilities.
“I am extremely fortunate in having the use of the track at Surakul Stadium. I keep some hurdles and a set of starting blocks in the back of my car, but I have no access to high jump mats, a workable long jump pit or throwing facilities, so I cannot train for multi events (heptathlon).”
Of course, there’s also the problem of the rainy season!
“The main northern hemisphere athletics season is June, July, August, and September… our wet season.
“Two years ago, in 2016, the rain was torrential. I went into the world championships in Perth, Australia, knowing that my preparation was not nearly as good as it should have been as the track had been flooded most days,” Michele explains.
“Add to that the fact that my previous competition was in the Asian championships in Singapore in May, I was ill prepared to perform well.”