With the 2020-21 Tokyo Olympics just behind us, Resthaven Malvern resident, Mrs Ann Cooper (nee Shanley), shares her story of competing as a sprinter at the 1950 Commonwealth Games (then called the ‘Empire Games’).
Mrs Cooper, who moved into Resthaven Malvern in August 2021, recalls that she was a keen runner ‘right from the start! I ran all the races at school.’
‘When I was 12, I finally joined a club – the Adelaide Harriers.’
In 1942, Ann won the State Open 220 yards Championships at the age of 13. In 1943, she slipped in the 100 yards and sprained her ankle, preventing her from competing that year.
However, from there on, she won every 100 yards State Championships for the rest of the decade.
Ann was South Australia’s first female National Champion in 1950, first female National record holder, and first International female athlete.
In total, Ann won 26 State Championships in 100 yards, 200 yards, 440 yards, shot put and long jump.
When Ann was 21, she was chosen for the 1950 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand – the first Games after the war, which had caused both the 1942 and 1946 Games to be cancelled.
Ann recalls, ‘The trials were in Adelaide, and I had stiff opposition in Marjorie Jackson, who was number one in the world at the time.’
Despite strong competition, Ann made it into the 12-strong athletics squad, which speaks highly of her talent and skill. However, there was one hurdle to overcome – she was scheduled to be married to her husband, Colin, on the same day as the Opening Ceremony!
‘I wasn’t going to miss the Games,’ she says. ‘So we moved the wedding date to a week after I returned to Adelaide.’
‘On our way to the Games, the team and coach met in Sydney, and we trained over there for a week.’
‘It was the first time I’d ever been on a plane, and from Sydney to New Zealand we were in a flying boat – a seaplane – that was the most exciting part!’
‘The trip over [to New Zealand] took a long time compared to now.’
‘It was the first Games after the war, and it wasn’t like it is today of course – it was very austere.’
‘They didn’t turn it on, but it didn’t matter, we still had a great time.’
‘I was only young and I hadn’t been away before, so everything was exciting.’
Ann came sixth in the 100 yards and fourth in the 220 yards, and then teamed with Marjorie Jackson, Shirley Strickland and Verna Johnson to win gold in the 660 yards medley relay – an impressive result.
After returning from the Games and finally attending her wedding, Ann took a break from athletics following the birth of her son, when she was aged 22.
Later in life, she took up athletics again, and her love of running continued throughout her life.
Ann says, ‘It’s just the excitement of running; getting down on the blocks, waiting for the gun, oh gee! I miss all that.’
‘When I was 50, I joined the Veterans’ Masters Athletics, and I travelled quite a bit overseas.’
‘The last race I had was in Italy, when I was an old girl of 80 running around the track!’
‘I’m 92 now, and living here at [Resthaven] Malvern, I’m waited on like the Queen.’
‘My son is wonderful, he comes every day.’
‘It’s funny how it’s all worked out, I only lived two streets away from this place for 50 years. I always said I never wanted to move into residential care, but I didn’t expect that it’d be like a five-star hotel!’
‘They’re wonderful here, they really are.’
Thank you for sharing your story, Ann!
Established in 1935, Resthaven is a South Australian not-for-profit aged care community service associated with the Uniting Church in Australia.
Every day, Resthaven shares the lives and wisdom of older people and their carers, opening doors to the full range of aged care service options available.
Services are provided throughout metropolitan Adelaide, the Adelaide Hills, Murraylands, Riverland, Fleurieu Peninsula, lower Barossa region and the Limestone Coast of South Australia.