NAMIBIA's acclaimed Masters athlete Hella Kuppe, who turned 80 on Saturday, was honoured with a surprise party by some of her fellow Masters athletes on Friday.
In July 1991, Kuppe became the first athlete from an independent Namibia to receive international acclaim when she won five medals at the World Masters Championships in Turku, Finland.
She won gold in the 80m hurdles, two silver medals in the triple jump and long jump, and two bronze medals in the long jump and heptathlon.
The following month a 23-year old Frank Fredericks hit the headlines when he won a silver medal in the 200m at the World Athletics Championships in Tokyo, and as he went on to become an icon on the international stage, Kuppe, too, forged an indelible career on the Masters circuit.
In 1995 she won four medals (one silver and three bronze) at the World Masters Championships in Buffalo, United States and the next year won six gold medals at the African Veteran Championships in Windhoek. That year Kuppe also won the Namibia Sportswoman of the Year award for a second time, and would go on to win it a third time in 1997 when she once again enjoyed international success.
She won three gold medals and set two world records in high jump and triple jump at the World Indoor Championships in England, while she won one gold and two silver medals at the World Masters Championships in Durban, South Africa.
In 1998, Kuppe won six gold medals at the Africa Veteran Championships in Mauritius and the following year received an award for the best female veteran athlete in Africa.
She continued to excel at the SA Masters Championships, winning three gold medals in 2001, when she also competed for the last time at the World Masters Championships in Brisbane, Australia, winning a bronze medal in the 80m hurdles.
By then Kuppe was 61 years old and she decided to retire from the international circuit.
Ï decided it's time to start looking after my knees and my feet, so I called it a day and sent a postcard to all my friends and competitors from around the world, of a railway line with a sand dune going over it, with a caption saying it's the end of the road," she said.
But Kuppe could not remain inactive for long and soon started competing again at athletics events in Namibia, often as the only masters athlete, amongst athletes young enough to be her grandchildren.
This time she started specialising in field events like javelin, shot put, discus and hammer throw and it was not long before she started setting Namibian records in her new events.
She remained disciplined and dedicated, sticking to her training regime over the years, and now, at the age of 80, the remarkable Kuppe is as keen as ever to compete, but also to set an example.
"Now I'm competing with the children, so that they can see that they must not stop training, they can continue competing till they're 80 like me. At the beginning of the year I competed in Otjiwarongo and Swakopmund, and now I'm just waiting for September to break some more records again," she said.
For her birthday fellow Masters athlete and coach Leonie van Rensburg made her a special cake depicting photos of her at international events on it.
"Hella is such an inspiration, and at times she was the only person keeping Masters athletics going in Namibia. I decided that we should honour her on her birthday, so I made her a cake and invited some of her old Masters athletes along," she said.
Kuppe was clearly touched.
"I was so surprised, I couldn't believe what they had done for me and even started crying," she said.