Athlete Anne is proof that age is no barrier

One Southville resident is challenging perceptions around older people participating in sport – and the 71-year-old athlete has a few world titles under her belt to prove that age is no barrier.

Last year, Anne Dockery – who only took up running at the age of 55 – won gold in the Duathlon World Championships in Denmark and was part of the GB team which topped the medal table at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga in the 4x400m relay. In that same competition, she also won three individual bronze medals in the 800m, 1500m and 5000m as well as a team bronze in 4×100 relay.

The retired drama teacher regularly runs 1500m in well under seven minutes and her 5k PB is 20.47, which she set at 64-years-old.

Anne, who is originally from Lancashire but moved to Bristol from America 18 months ago, can also run the Ashton Court Parkrun in 26.24 – no mean feat for anyone who has ever attempted it.

Anne’s achievements and her zest for living an active life are so inspiring that images of her competing will form part of a free, month-long photo exhibition in College Green this August.

The display, called NO LIMITS, showcases 35 images of elite older athletes as well as locals participating in health and fitness activities, shot by Bristol-based photographer Alex Rotas.

Funded by Bristol Health Partners, the exhibition is being put together by Active Ageing Bristol, a collaboration between Bristol Sport Foundation, St Monica Trust and The Anchor Society.

Anne met Alex at the Malaga World Championships. Like Anne, Alex wants to challenge widely held misconceptions about what growing older means and encourage fresh thinking on what older people can do to stay fit, healthy, engaged and happy.

Speaking about being featured in the exhibition, Anne say that “it’s very nice, but scary.”

Anne, who had been a heavy smoker until her 40s, took up running 16 years ago after being diagnosed with bronchiectasis – a lung condition affecting the airways.

“I’ve been cycling all my life, but I’d never ran before – I thought it was a bit boring really,” said Anne. “I was then entered into a race, and that was it, I came third in my age group and thought, I like this.”

She added: “As you get older, it’s harder to find things to dream about and look forward to, as you’ve done so much already.

“When you’re running, there’s always another little challenge, whether you’re trying to knock minutes off your Parkrun time, or a second off your 800 metres. You can turn anything into a challenge – and that’s what I’ve loved.”

Anne says that she also loves the camaraderie of participating in sport – and since moving to Bristol, she has been overwhelmed at how supportive and encouraging the running and triathlon communities have been. “I’m so grateful to all these people – they don’t treat you any different because you’ve got grey hair.”

Anne trains five days a week, which includes track sessions with Bristol and West Athletics, and she enjoys the Ashton Court 5k Parkrun on a Saturday.

“Parkruns are the best thing – the community is wonderful,” said Anne. “When I moved to Bristol, I didn’t know many people so started going to Ashton Court and before long, I was joining everyone who had hit milestones for cake. It’s free and you can have a go at it. If you can’t run, come and volunteer. You cannot imagine how grateful the runners are when you volunteer.”

Although a big advocate of running, Anne recognises it is not for everyone. “For me, what makes me happy is if I run well in a race, but it doesn’t matter if you’re walking – it’s just good to get out there.”

The grandmother of two added: “If you look around there are so many negative images of older people, like those signs of us crossing the road. I just want to give a positive idea of old age and that being old is exciting.

“Of course, there are things that can go wrong with you, but that’s part of it. The point is that people can run and do these things … being old just means you’ve got a few extra years on you. I think you’ve got to find ways to keep looking forward to things and being with a mixture of people, young and old.”

The NO LIMITS exhibition opens on College Green on August 1 and runs until August 28. Viewing is free and because the eco-friendly displays are fitted with solar lighting, they can be seen at any time.

Story published in the July edition of South Bristol Voice

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About Rebecca Day

I’m a Bristol-based journalist and media consultant, specialising in communications and marketing for local schools.