Taranaki’s Masters Games are underway, and Stratford is hoping one of its own will be bringing home some glory.

Hazel Fawcett is a table tennis devotee. And at 75, she says she’s just hitting her straps.

“I suppose you could call me an athlete. I love sports.”

Fawcett has played table tennis on and off for about 40 years.

“My dad used to go and play cards. Instead of playing cards, I used to play table tennis,” she said.

“Later, I took up badminton and tennis but got injuries to my knees and my hips. It was too hard with all the jolting and jarring. So, I took up table tennis again.”

Fawcett also enjoys the social side of it.

“You’re meeting a lot of different people; you can get together and have a cup of tea afterwards. It’s just three dollars a night – you can’t beat it.”

She said it was also excellent fitness.

“You’re moving sideways around the table, so you’re on the go the whole time.

“It’s good for health and your balance; it keeps you younger, I reckon. You’re not sitting home being a couch potato.”

Fawcett’s no couch potato. In her Stratford home, she has nine medals on display from other Masters Games and plans to bring home more.

“This is my secret weapon, which I just bought last week,” she said, showing off her new paddle.

“The world champ uses one with the same rubber and style bat.”

Like many athletes, Fawcett is carrying some injuries.

“I was born with dislocated hips, and when I was 32, I had my first hip operation,” she said.

“I’ve had both knees replaced. I’ve done both shoulders; one was when I was playing table tennis, and I fell over and went into the wall and dislocated my shoulder.

“But I’m going back. Nothing will stop me.”

Fawcett admits she’d been pressured by friends and family to give up the sport. “People say, ‘Why do you want to go back?’ — because I love it.”

Her husband Murray said she was unstoppable.

“The last thing I say to her when she walks out the door is come home in one piece.”

Fawcett’s most recent injury was to her front teeth.

“Because I had my arm in a sling, I was unbalanced, and I was sitting at the table and went to get something off the floor, lost my balance, knocked my tooth and broke it off. But I’ll still go play table tennis.”

Hazel Fawcett has played table tennis for about forty years.

Fawcett trains at Stratford Hall once a week. Fellow player Alan Manning said she is hard to beat.

“Impossible just about comes to mind,” laughed Manning.

“[She’s] very determined; she never gives up. Sometimes, I’ll be ahead, and I’ll relax, thinking ‘I’ve got it’, but she still comes up, and she beats me.”

“People say I’m competitive. I love it so much; I live for it,” insisted Fawcett. “I like to win.”

Manning, who is also participating in the Masters, insisted she always plays fair. But she also has a killer instinct.

“Find out their weakness and play against it. That’s the secret of table tennis,” said Fawcett.

“If they don’t like backhand, you play to that.”

Fawcett admitted her weakness is also backhand but plans to keep that one to herself during the games.

Up to 600 participants

The inaugural Taranaki Masters Games was held in 1995 in Hawera. Covid-19 cancelled the games in 2021, but this year marks their return.

More than 300 people have registered to participate, but organisers expect that number to rise.

“Taranaki people, in particular, leave things to the back end and come home with a flurry, so we’re expecting much bigger numbers,” smiled Michael Carr, Sport Taranaki chief executive.

There are 16 different codes on offer, including pool, sailing, speed golf, and even dog agility. Most events are in early April, with sailing and darts finishing the competition on April 14.

“The Masters Games is an opportunity for older adults to participate in a series of different sports — it’s about those people reigniting sporting passions and being in a safe environment where they can have a go.”

Fawcett’s husband said he was very proud of his wife’s sporting success.

“She’ll come home with medals again; I don’t have a doubt about that,” grinned Murray.

Fawcett is looking forward to taking part and showing off her new bat.

She said how well she did would depend on who gave up first.

“But I won’t [give up]. Cold, snowing — I’ll be there.

“No one will ever stop me from playing table tennis.”