It’s a long way from the country town of Leongatha in South Gippsland, Victoria, to the Olympic Games in Rome. For Brenda, who lives in our Galleon Gardens retirement community at Currumbin Waters on Queensland’s Gold Coast, it’s a trail she blazed so other women athletes could compete on the world stage.
Born in 1936, Brenda says the best year of her life was the year she won silver in the women’s 800m at the Rome Olympics in 1960, aged just 24.
“I’ll never forget the day my name was called over the radio to say I made the Olympic team,” she says.
“We trained really hard for seven years and I gave up everything.
“It was life-changing because when you’re selected and you’ve trained really hard, you just think ‘I can do this!’”
Now retired and enjoying life at Galleon Gardens retirement community, Brenda hasn’t forgotten the hard work and disappointment that preceded her success.
Inspired by another female Olympian Marjorie Jackson in 1948 as a 12-year-old, she started running at club level at age 17.
“I always loved the sport at school and the sports mistress suggested that I pursue it.
“She took me to Melbourne and I joined an athletics club.”
It didn’t take her long to realise the divide between men and women in sport.
“We were training at Caulfield Racecourse where I saw the men running around the track,” she said.
“I said to one of the girls I was with that we should go run as well and she told me ‘women don’t do that’.”
But there was no stopping Brenda and the next time the men lapped the track she joined in.
“When the whistle blew I’d run the 800m to prove it didn’t affect me.”
After her Olympic success, Brenda continued campaigning to get more long distance events for women into the Games as well as furthering her career in the United Kingdom, where her husband Don was coaching.
Upon their return to Australia, the dedicated pair asked the men’s Cross Country running club if the women could start their own races, which led to the development of the Women’s Cross Country in Victoria.
Today while her training regime isn’t quite as intense, she continues to stay active, walking her dog and spending time with her neighbours at Galleon Gardens.
“If you’ve got gifts you should share them,” she says.
Read more about Bolton Clarke’s ongoing work supporting wellbeing and independence in our 2018 Year in Review.