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Norma's conquests: after Bondi, she'll take Manhattan

Norma's conquests: after Bondi, she'll take Manhattan

John Huxley from Fairfax - 9th August 2003

There may be many more famous and thousands much faster among the 58,000 starters expected to make the annual excursion from City to Surf tomorrow, but none, surely, will match the drive and determination of Norma Wallett. Only a few weeks short of her 74th birthday, Wallett is making the trip to Bondi for the umpteenth time.

"Quite honestly, I've lost count," she says, raking through old running diaries, looking for an answer. Most years, she has run just for the sheer, "jumping out of your skin" joy of it all. "Some days I go out, and the beauty of the surroundings, that great feeling of being alive . . . they reduce me to tears. Really."

This year, though, she will be monitoring her pace, taking Heartbreak Hill a little easier, listening to her body a little more carefully - because she is also using the 14-kilometre fun run as a warm-up for something three times as long: the New York City marathon in November.

Wallett will be official flag-bearer for the 50 or so Australians competing in the famous marathon which, even before the events of September 11, became so heavily over-subscribed that most of the 30,000 places were allocated by ballot. A small quota is offered to overseas runners.

After a life of little or no strenuous exercise, Wallett took up running only in her late 50s, first walking, then jogging and eventually running with a friend along the clifftop path between Bronte and Bondi.

"It gave me this incredible high. Within weeks, I was hooked," she says, as she wraps up warm, attaches her drinks belt and checks her CD player, into which husband Jim has thoughtfully inserted the soundtrack of the musical Carousel, in preparation for a training run. I mix it up. Sometimes short, sometimes long. One day, I might do intervals. Another, practice hills on the treadmill at the gym. After a few over-use injuries, I know now that I need a day of rest. That is, do nothing."

It is the most difficult day of a week in which she may run up to 70 kilometres along the roads and up and down the hills near her home at Mittagong in the Southern Highlands, laying the groundwork for what will be her fourth, full-length, 42.2 kilometre marathon.

From the copper-streaked tips of her blonde hair to her race-blackened toes, Norma Wallett looks, moves and feels like a runner. A runner's runner, with similar tweaks and twinges and a similar obsession to run through them. To run forever. And why ever not?

"People look at my age and say, well, that's amazing. I don't mind the attention but, honestly, I'm nothing special. It's all a matter of getting up and doing something. It may not be running, but anyone can do it. A lot of it's just determination."

Not for nothing, though, is Norma nicknamed "Lucky Legs". Perhaps because of her age and her hyper-activity, doctors tend to take her injuries seriously. "Over the years, I must have had every part of my body X-rayed." Remarkably, the X-rays and scans show no evidence of arthritis and negligible osteoporosis, explains Wallett, who fine-tunes her training program with her nephew Michael Brennan, a former triathlete.

Will Stormin' Norma, the self-styled "ageing queen of the athletic scene", ever stop running? She refuses even to consider the possibility. "I won't even think about it. As far as I'm concerned there's nothing can stop me."


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