Inspirational Falkirk district pensioners prove age is only a number in new exhibition

Exhbition curator Alex Rotas (second from left) with Fiona Matheson, Hugh McGinlay and Janette Stevenson
Exhbition curator Alex Rotas (second from left) with Fiona Matheson, Hugh McGinlay and Janette Stevenson

What picture forms in your head when you envisage growing older?

Is it an image of an old person in a care home or something far more active?

Changing perceptions of old age have been photo journalist Alex Rotas’ main mission since 2011.

The former visual culture lecturer at Bristol University is now deemed somewhat of an expert on the subject.

For her lens has been firmly focused on older athletes since she learned to use a camera in 2010.

And that lens has been trained on some sporting heroes from the Falkirk area for her first exhibition in Scotland, Growing Old Competitively, which opened at the Park Gallery in Callendar House on Saturday and runs until August 19.

All of the sport stars featured have two things in common – they are not in their first flush of youth but, regardless, are all masters in their chosen field.

And their age has been no barrier to them pursuing and mastering their sport.

Our own local sports stars mix with international athletes on the walls of the Park Gallery with two aims in mind – changing perceptions of old age and encouraging others to get active.

The brainchild of Falkirk Community Trust’s exhibition officer Gillian Smith, she wanted to stage an exhibition to tie in with a summer of sport, namely the imminent World Cup and the 2018 European Championships in Glasgow.

Gillian emailed Alex last September to see if she would be interested – and she was more than happy to get on board.

So in April, Gillian and Alex met with a handful of Scottish athletes at Grangemouth Stadium to create images for the exhibition.

Alex said: “It was a bitterly cold day but Hugh McGinglay turned up in his T-shirt and shorts.

“He explained he was an endurance runner and that the cold didn’t bother him.

“Everyone else had layers on – but not Hugh!”

Now aged 91, Hugh competes in the 90+ category in athletics and has won many Scottish and UK titles in a variety of age groups.

He was more than happy to feature in the exhibition.

Hugh said: “Irrespective of whether I’m in it or not, it’s a tremendous exhibition which is informative but also might encourage other people to take up sport.

“If someone comes along and thinks to themselves, ‘I can do that’, then that will be an achievement.”

Falkirk Victoria Harriers member Janette Stevenson, who also features in the exhibition, is no stranger to winning medals, being both a European Masters and former World Record holder.

A self-confessed “slob” until the age of 35, in 1984 an initiative between Woman’s Own magazine and Nike transformed her life.

She explained: “The aim was to get women running so a group of us met that April at Grangemouth Stadium, with the aim of running a 10K by September – which we did. So you started off a slob and ended up being a runner.

“From then on, I was hooked. Now it’s my identity – I’m a runner.

“Any day I can’t get active is a bad day. You might think you can’t be bothered but you always feel better for it.”

As for appearing in the exhibition, Janette (69) had mixed emotions.

She added: “I was a bit apprehensive – I didn’t want people to see pictures of me!

“But perhaps if they realise people their age do these things, it might encourage others to take those first steps.

“It’s not about winning medals – that’s not the be-all and end-all as they just end up shoved in a cupboard.

“It’s about staying active and meeting like-minded people on your doorstep.”

Indeed, that’s how Janette met fellow exhibition star Fiona Matheson, also now a member of Falkirk Harriers.

She has been the most successful veteran Harrier for several years now.

Fiona holds 18 British records, from road to track and indoor. It’s all a far cry from how she first started.

Fiona (57) said: “Janette was one of the trainers when I joined Jog Scotland.

“I couldn’t believe I was running a mile within a few weeks. I started off with baby steps and now love running.

“There are a lot of health benefits, chief among them mental well-being.

“It’s a great stress reliever. If you go for a run along the canal or in Callendar Park, you switch off. It’s me time.

“I just hope the exhibition shows people that you’re never too old to enjoy sport.

“It’s a great way of meeting new people with a similar mindset to your own who are happy to encourage you too.”