FROM time to time, a plant will generate a variation markedly different from the parent stock.
Gardeners call this a sport. The term defines West Vancouver's Christa Bortignon in the horticultural sense and as an athlete.
Bortignon returned to track and field in 2009 after a gap of 55 years and currently holds Canadian records in 28 separate events. She is 75.
From childhood, Bortignon had two interests: sports and education. Born in Schleswig, Germany and reared in a traditional family, in a culture and time very different from today's world, the possibility of developing either interest was remote.
"My mother did not consider sports appropriate for girls," says Bortignon, "and my father said university would be wasted on me since I would be married and a mother."
She was 10 years old when she persuaded her mother to allow her to join the local sports club - by refusing to return the family house key until the admission papers were signed. Her three brothers were not interested in sports, but swimming, gymnastics, and track and field came easily to Bortignon. Acquiring a university education was more challenging.
Bortignon was 20 when she moved to Canada for a year to improve her English. Marriage and motherhood came along, just as her father predicted. She also graduated from Carleton University with a degree in commerce. By then, Bortignon was a single mother supporting her son and daughter as a financial officer with the federal government. She was posted to Vancouver in 1981.
Bortignon was 44 when she took up tennis. "I didn't have the proper equipment, only a racquet and a can of balls," she says. "One day, I was hitting balls against the wall and I noticed a man doing the same. 'I can play as well as a wall,' I thought and I asked him if he'd like to rally. I found out later that if I waited five minutes, he would have invited me."
Bortignon and her husband will celebrate 28 years of marriage next month.
In 1995, they moved into the house they had designed and built in West Vancouver. By 2009, at the age of 72, the accumulation of tennis tournaments, needlework projects and the rock garden Bortignon built by hand contributed to arthritis in her wrists.
A North Shore News photograph of Olga Kotelko smashing another track and field record at the age of 90 caught Bortignon's attention.
"If I can't use my hands, my legs still work and I called her. Olga said, 'I'll meet you at the West Vancouver high school track in half an hour'," recalls Bortignon. "Three weeks later, I competed at my first track meet in 55 years."
Bortignon's long jump, 2.54 metres, was a record. "That record was broken 15 minutes later," she says, "but I was excited. I still could jump."
Bortignon joined the Greyhounds Track Club, linked up with coach Harold Morioka and worked out a practice schedule. She competes in long, triple and high jump, heptathlon, pentathlon, running, hurdles, javelin and shot put. "I'm still looking for the event that's right for me," she explains.
Training and dedication have paid off. Kotelko and Bortignon compete all over the world, leaving a trail of broken records in their wake. Bortignon is most proud of her performance in the 200-metre at the 2012 World Masters Indoor Championships in Finland, where she trimmed 2.66 seconds off the world record.
Bortignon's commitment goes beyond competition.
"Athletics have completely changed my life," she says. "The variety keeps me interested, the routine gives me structure and the people, a sense of participation. We socialize together and we help each other.
"As my body feels better, I feel better. I want to aim for something more, to see how far I can go. People can do what I've done, even if they're not the 'sporty type,' even if they're not interested in competing, and no matter what age they are. You can start by walking. All you need is a pair of running shoes," she says.
Bortignon and Kotelko's current goal? A masters track and field group on the North Shore. To participate, or simply to learn more about the benefits of field sports, take the first step. Call Christa Bortignon at 604-921-7745.
Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her at 7782792275 or email her at email@example.com.
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