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Hanmer Springs Masters Games

Ian Mathieson, at 95 years old, will become the oldest person ever to participate in the South Island Masters Games.

Mathieson, of Picton, will do the 5km walk and compete in bowling when over 1700 players congregate in Christchurch to take part in more than 20 events ranging from cycling to netball to shooting.

The South Island Masters Games, which alternate between Christchurch and Timaru, has an open entry system for mature athletes. There are no qualification criteria - athletes don't need to be nominated or to represent a club to take part.

Mathieson, who played rugby, tennis and badminton in his younger days and ran marathons when in his 80s, will also become the second oldest participant in any Masters Games in New Zealand.

The organisers of the Christchurch games will acknowledge his participation with a holiday at Hanmer Springs. Despite having a knee and a hip replacement in his 80s, Mathieson continues competing, keeping in shape with an hour's walk through bush and undulating slope every day and once-a-week session in the gym.

"Some time ago I chipped my right shoulder tripping on a low fence at Geraldine on a run one night and the specialists said I would no longer be able to raise my arm higher than shoulder level," says Mathieson.

He proved the specialists wrong by working the shoulder with weights and now has near "full mobility with it to nearly full stretch above my head". The Games regularly attract national and international athletes competing to achieve personal bests and to break New Zealand and World records, "but there is a larger element of counting the friends and not just the medals."

"The social element of the Games is really big, quite apparent when you see the make-up of teams participating," Ken Dunning, Communications Manager with Special Events Aoraki Ltd, the organisers of the Games.

"For example, the Mid Canterbury Fossils originally started with some people who had never played football before and now are regulars, winning a lot and losing a lot of games since 1998," says Dunning.

Fifty-four guys have played for the Fossils over 11 years - the team has entered every Annual South Island Masters Games and each New Zealand Masters Games (held in Dunedin) since 1998.

"The bulk of the current players have been playing with the team for seven or more years, with six of the originals (from 1998) still playing. The oldest player is 61 years old, with most in their 40's and 50's. They also have three or four 4 babies (under 40)!" says Dunning.

Similar stories abound for the regular teams in the Games, he says.

The Zambuka Chicks, ranging from 36 yrs to 50 something, book in accommodations for the Games 12 months in advance. "There are some strict rules: charges of shots of Zambuka are available for the team and its opposition, and no shot poured out can be poured back into the bottle," says Dunning. "Such eccentricities make for a great time during the Games."

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