Jackie Bezuidenhout, who’s won numerous World Masters Athletics sprint titles for Australian Masters Athletics over the last decade, left her native South Africa with her husband Pieter and their young children Demi and Andre in the early 2000s for a better life in Australia.
She said if she didn’t have children, she probably would have stayed, as established people could still have a good life in South Africa despite the escalating violence.
Having young children, however, she had concerns about the type of future they would have if they stayed in South Africa.
“Demi and Andre could have gone to university in South Africa, but it would have been difficult for them to get jobs due to the quota system put in place, so we decided to leave,” she said.
She’s glad she came to Australia, as her children have benefited with Demi now having a full-time position as an interior architect after recently graduating from university, while Andre finishes his university degree this year.
As for Bezuidenhout, who works in data analysis and husband Piet, who’s the Managing Director of the GEO group, which runs private correctional facilities in New South Wales in Junee and Fulham, it’s been a great move, as they have prospered in their new country.
They have worked hard and the fruits of their labours, including their beautiful and spacious home at Castlecrag in Sydney’s lower north shore, have come off the back of that hard work, since they emigrated to Australia.
They’ve both stayed active, with Piet initially rekindling his love of rugby from his schoolboy and university days, by playing golden oldies for Gordon and Jackie with her athletics.
Jackie Bezuidenhout with her medals from Malaga (top), Spain and (immediately above) looking through her photo gallery/scrapbook which covers her history of competing in masters athletics (Photos: Caroline Layt)
Bezuidenhout’s been running for nineteen years and in that time she’s been UTS Norths Masters Athlete of the Year on four occasions and nominated many more times, which is no mean feat, considering the calibre of 30 plus years athletes at the club, which includes former Olympians and many current and former World Masters athletics champions.
The mother of two had been a good runner at school, competing at zone and regional level, but didn’t pursue it afterwards, as there was no major incentive in the apartheid era – with South Africa – banned from international competition during the 1980s.
“There was no need, no desire, you couldn’t actually go to the Olympics, so we didn’t do that, so my athletics was just normal school stuff, so when the season ended you moved onto other things.
‘Athletics wasn’t my dream or passion of becoming an Olympian,” she said.
She said if she had the opportunity to compete at the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, she would have trained and “aspired” to be an Olympian if she had’ve been good enough?
With personal best masters times such as 12.78 (100 metres) and 26.49 (200 metres) to win world titles as a 46-year-old-sprinter in 2013 in Brazil, Bezuidenhout would have been even faster in her early 20s and surely would have been in the mix?
She eventually did make up for lost time, as she loved training at Rotary Athletics Field. Everyone was so welcoming, with the two men – who are still considered legends in professional running circles in Reg Austin and Jack Giddy – instrumental in the sprinter joining the Lane Cove based UTS Norths athletics club.
Giddy had been Austin’s coach in the professional ranks for many years and Bezuidenhout said Austin could have been anything if only given the opportunity, but when he was at the peak of his powers he was barred from competing at the Olympic and Empire Games (now referred to as the Commonwealth Games) during the 1950s and ‘60s.
“Many years ago he took part in a charity event and wore some some sort of branding and under the amateur athletic rules [of that time] that was reason for him being banned for the rest of his life to do amateur athletics.
“If he wasn’t banned because of that, he would have been able to participate in the 1956 [Melbourne] Olympics and based on the [100 metre] times he was running at that time, he would have [potentially] got a silver medal at the Olympics,” she said.
In 1969, aged-33 – Austin recorded the phenomenal time of 10.4 for 100 metres and seven years later he broke the men’s 40 plus years world record in the stunning time of 10.80 seconds.
Austin was also a talented rugby league player and from 1958-61 he played for the North Sydney Bears, before heading to Cootamundra, where he was the club’s fullback for nine years in the Group 9 NSW Country rugby league competition.
He still ran during his football career, but he stepped it up a notch after retiring, competing in professional gift races under the tutelage of coach Giddy, where he won the Latrobe Gift in Tasmania on four occasions and was runner-up in the Stawell Gift in 1964.
Both Austin and Giddy, who were also sprint trainers for professional sporting teams across both the NRL and AFL, were close friends and mentors of Bezuidenhout’s and she said unfortunately both Austin and (2015) and Giddy had died (2017) – as their athletics legend now moves into folklore.
As for Bezuidenhout, she’s happy to be stepping away from athletics after nineteen years in the sport, as even though she was reasonably happy with her relay gold (4 x400 metre relay), two silver medals (300 metre hurdles, 4 x 400 metre relay) from the recent World Masters Athletics championships in Malaga, Spain, she’s happy to be starting a new chapter of her life.
That will entail cycling with husband Pieter and in the process: spending more time with him and with their kids, Demi and Andre.