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Monday, November 13, 2006

Derek Turnbull dies aged 79

"Derek Turnbull, QSM, athlete, farmer. Died aged 79

Derek Turnbull, a Southland farmer was the subject of a book called The Fastest Old Man in the World. This veteran of veteran athletics held age group world records for the 800m, 1500m, 10,000m, cross-country and the marathon.

But running was always "just a hobby" for Turnbull, who started athletics at Southland Boys High School. He was in his own words "well down the track" in New Zealand open athletics."
Gary Moller comments:

I first met Derek when I travelled with the first New Zealand team to compete at a world veteran's athletics championships. That was in 1977 and the Games were in Gothenberg, Sweden. I was the team's first aider and trainer. That was an amazing experience with three athletic stadia in full use for a week. It was a big event and I got to meet many of my childhood sporting heros, like the mighty Al Oerter, who were still going great.

Derek was the young boy of the team and I don't think many of us quite knew how good he was. My main recollection was the look of shock (or was it disbelief) on the faces of the entire team, including Derek, after he cleaned up just about every event he contested. Derek was a sensation!

When you look at him, he is the perfect athlete - a cross between a greyhound and a hare. The perfect body type for running.

A lesson we can all take from Derek is the fact that most of his training was intuitive: No rigid training schedules; Derek ran according to how he felt and this was mostly over farmland, thus sparing his muscles and joints. This is at the heart of his longevity as a runner.

I last met Derek earlier this year while I was running a workshop in Invercargill about Lydiard training methods. He had suffered a devastating stroke. While he was looking quite good considering what he had just been through, he was nevertheless clearly unwell. His passing is most premature, given his immense athletic talent, which should have carried him along for many more years.

Derek, we miss you.
(I am presently reading Derek's book "The fastest old man in the world". It is autographed by Derek with the advice "Never give up"). Order the book here; Turnbull website here

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