Bicycle Network: Bicycle Network Membership
Wheel whirling world-beater at 80
An unstoppable Octagenarian and long-time supporter of Bicycle Network chats to Astrid Meier
Setting a world record seems unlikely for someone who has undergone two serious heart operations. But for Gerry Heilmann almost anything is feasible. Twenty four days after his 83rd birthday, Gerry established a new world record for the 4x800m relay with three friends in the M80 age group. This amazing achievement was possible because Gerry keeps fit with regular athletics and bike riding.
The record collection
Gerry probably is the only world record holder with a heart valve of a pig. “It works,” says Gerry. “My cardiologist said after my second heart operation in 2002 I should keep on exercising.” And how it works: in February 2007 along with Michael Johnston (85 years old), Ken Matchett (85) and Jim Sinclair – on the 82nd birthday the youngest of the quartet – they set the new world record of 17:24,2min for the 4x800m relay at the Australian Masters Athletics event in Murrumbeeny, Victoria.
After his doctor advised him to go in for sports, he has joined the Knox Masters Athletics and practises track and field every Tuesday and Wednesday. The weekly training pays off: Gerry also holds Victorian records in long, high and triple jump. He broke the records at the Australian masters games in Adelaide in 2005 when he jumped 3.28m long, 1.05m high and in the triple jump 6.44m.
Life-long sports fan
Even today Gerry can do exercises that many young people never could. He’s well known as ‘the headstand man’ in the bicycle and athletics scene for the party trick he does after every event.
It seems nothing is impossible for this man. “I promised a newspaper, which wrote an article about me, that I would do a parachute jump at my 80th birthday – and I did,” says the 83-year-old. Gerry has taken to parachuting and has done it three times till since. He has been committed to sports all his life. The world champion emigrated from Germany in 1956 with the aim to be in Melbourne at the beginning of the XVI Olympic Games. He raves about the games and the 1500m runner John Landy and Soviet long-distance runner Vladimir Kuts. “He ran like a locomotive,” remembers the 83-year-old.
Foundation for a riding habit
Although Gerry has always loved sport, he had a break for nearly 40 years when he started his own business in 1963. “I worked seven days per week and had no time for sports anymore”, says Gerry. As a bricklayer he took part in the creation of present-day Melbourne, building several churches and laid the bricks for Melbourne’s first skyscraper – ICI building on Nicholson Street – until its completion in 1958. After Gerry went into retirement in 1983 and a triple heart bypass operation in 1990, he was looking for a new challenge. Sports came back into view.
First he attended a gym session once a week, then he approached a local cycling club. Gerry fell in love with cycling immediately. He bought a hybrid bike and joined the group. “We rode from 50km to 100km every Thursday,” he says. Group members introduced him to Bicycle Network in the same year and it didn’t take long before he became a Member.
Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and abroad
The world champion also rode his first Great Victorian Bike Ride and Portfolio Partners Around the Bay in a Day in 1997. As the eldest participants Gerry has led the peloton to the finish at two Bicycle Queensland Big Rides. He has twice ridden the Great Tasmanian Bike Ride as well.
Gerry is especially proud of his participation in the challenge series 2000 organised by Bicycle Network which included three separate races with a total distance of 510km. He always wears the key ring pendant of the event which shows that he took part in all rides. “I always meet many friends and become acquainted with new people at the rides. I enjoy it,” says Gerry. Not even his second heart operation distracted him from the Great Victorian Bike Ride in 2002. This year, he also rode the “Tour de Chance Europa”, a bike race in Germany’s east with 8000 participants, and held the title of the eldest member. Besides taking part in rides Gerry also works as a volunteer for Bicycle Network. “I’m the man with the big finger who shows the riders the way to go,” he says.
Unfortunately, Gerry had an accident in September 2007 that incapacitates him exercising for a while. But he is optimistic to ride his bike soon. And maybe, we can hear news of the latest records in Gerry’s collection. “Definitely, I will continue to help Bicycle Network as a volunteer”, sees Gerry bright in the future.