Living the high life at 75

Imagine pole-vaulting your body two metres into the air. Now imagine doing it at the age of 75. That vision is a reality for former Edgeworthstown resident, Dorothy McLennan (nee Marnell). At the age of 50, she donned her runners and took her first steps into the world of serious athletics and as the old adage goes, she hasn’t looked back since.

Imagine pole-vaulting your body two metres into the air. Now imagine doing it at the age of 75. That vision is a reality for former Edgeworthstown resident, Dorothy McLennan (nee Marnell). At the age of 50, she donned her runners and took her first steps into the world of serious athletics and as the old adage goes, she hasn’t looked back since.

“I was watching the London marathon on television,” said Dorothy, who lives in London with her husband Ray. “I was 50 at the time and I thought to myself, if an 82 year old can run the marathon then so can I. So I started running myself and joined the Harringate Joggers. I’ve now done 22 marathons.”

Dorothy’s first marathon was the Women’s Mini Marathon in Dublin which she did with her twin sister, Sheila Champion who lives in Dublin. That was in 1985 and from there both Dorothy and Sheila developed an interest in athletics and in particular in Masters Athletics, a sports federation for veteran athletes (35 years upward).

“I rather fancied pole vaulting and so did Sheila,” said Dorothy, a mother of three. “It was a new sport then and I realised that I had as good a chance as anyone else at it.”

Dorothy and Sheila have traveled the world partaking in athletics championships, setting records and winning medals. While Dorothy pole vaults, Sheila has opted for the Javelin.

“I’ve done very nicely thank you,” said Dorothy in speaking to the Leader. “I’ve won gold around the world in both indoor

and outdoor athletics. We’ve both been very successful.”

Dorothy and Sheila Marnell moved from Dublin to Edgeworthstown with their parents, Vincent and Agnes, during World War II.

“There were four children, including us twins,” said Dorothy. “My father wanted to move us out of Dublin and so at the age of five we went to live in Edgeworthstown. I have many fond memories of my time there. In my mind, the sun was always shining.”

Eventually the Marnells moved back to Dublin and there the twins stayed until 1967 when Dorothy made the decision to move to London and work with the Irish Tourist Office. Sheila remained in Dublin.

“I met Ray, another Irish person, and we married and had three children,” said Dorothy.

Sport has become a major part of the McLennan family life and today Stephen, Dorothy’s younger son, is her pole vaulting coach.

As part of her weekly training regime, Dorothy undertakes a lot of yoga and stretching.

“I’ve been doing yoga for twenty years and my ability to stretch is due to my yoga. I attribute a lot of my mobility to my yoga,” said Dorothy, who is currently working her way through an ankle injury.

Sheila does yoga and Tai Chi at her home in Dublin. However, she also includes in her training schedule weekly walks up the Dublin Mountains with her walking group. For her, the social aspect is a key motivator in maintaining her vitality.

“We go for tea afterward and have a chat. It’s lovely to catch up,” said Sheila. “It’s really marvelous to be so active at this time of life, particularly considering I have had three strokes in the last ten years.

“I remember after my first stroke I was determined to run again. When I took my first steps I fell down but I got up and did it again until I could do it,” said Sheila, who describes herself as extraordinarily positive minded. “There is a way around everything. I’m running with runners who have had hips replaced, knees replaced - we all go at our own pace.”

Dorothy and Sheila will both partake in the World Masters Games in Italy in September 2011. Dorothy will be pole-vaulting, while Sheila will be throwing the Javelin.

“We always do what we can, but we always push ourselves a little bit further each time,” said Sheila, who is married to Barney. Together they have three children.

For information on Irish Masters Athletics, visit www.irishmastersathletics.com.