Tucked away at the bottom of the world in the tiny farming community of Tussock Creek lives the greatest veteran runner of all time. Since 1975 the New Zealand farmer has claimed twenty-five World Age Group records to become the “Fastest Old Man in the World. So says the ‘Think In Ink’ video which records his amazing feats:
Derek Turnbull was born at Waikaka in 1926. He is a third generation New Zealander. His grandparents farmed at Waikaka where his father worked and then Harry and Alice Turnbull brought their family to live on the North Road on a farmlet while Harry worked as a stock buyer for the Livestock Company.
Derek attended Waikiwi Primary and Southland Boys High School, then attained a Diploma of Agriculture with honours at Massey University.
He then left for his OE.. first to Australia on a motorbike, then
He worked on an experimental farm in England and toured Europe and the USA by push bike, cycling from one side of the States to the other before coming back home to work at J. G Wards as a stock clerk before taking up farming himself.
He first farmed at North Road on his parents former 90 acres while working in Ingill, sold, then bought the Taramoa Farm, Stewart Island Farm, Greenhills farm, Underwood Farm (all together over the years) and then.Tussock Creek farm, where he retired.
He is better known for his successess in Veteran Athletics. He is called 'The Fastest Old Man In The World' as he holds World Records in his age group, at the moment for 800m, 1500m, 5000m, 10.000 m, Cross Country and the Marathon.
He was awarded the QSM, and is Patron of CCS, (the old Crippled Children) and Sport Southland. & Invercargill Harrier & Amatuer Athletic Club. And is a Patron of the N.Z. Masters Games
A book has been written about his exploits by well known author Vince Boyle.
The Fastest Old Man in the World - The Derek Turnbull Story
This biography explores the awesome running career that has made Derek Turnbull a role model for many New Zealand and overseas runners of all ages. It is profusely illustrated with many action shots and contains an introduction by Masters running guru Roger Robinson, one of Turnbull's many admirers. Proofreading has let it down a little
You can order your copy now by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, address, fax and email address and the number of copies you would like.
Derek's Records & Results >>
Since the above was written Derek passed peacefully away in his sleep on 2nd November 2006. He had still been working long hours in his native reserve and running daily and had entered for the annual Kepler Challenge in December, although with reservations on his capability. He was determinded to give it a go, but it was not to be. He was in his 80th year.
Accolades have poured in from all over the world which have been very much appreciated and have also shown the reverence in which he was held due to his athletic exploits. Some of his world records still hold.
He was given a tremendous farewell at the Sports Stadium, Invercargill, and he is buried at St. Johns Cemetery in Invercargill along with his sister, parents, grandparents on both sides and his great grandparents, so he is not alone.
His 80th birthday was to have been held at Forest Hill Reserve with all his running friends, so it was still held as a 'Memorial Birthday Bash'. His cake had 'Never Give Up' on it as that was his motto as such. A tree was also planted and it was a poignant farewell to a wonderful husband, father, grand and great grandfather, a friend and a running compatriot.
On 28th April 2007 the Derek Turnbull Track was officially opened in the Forest Hill Reserve and was dedicated to Derek. Evan McIntosh, President of Southland Masters Athletics, said:
"If you consider masters athletics a legitimate branch of the sport, and you should because it is, then Derek Turnbull is New Zealand's greatest ever athlete. He has won more world championships and held more world records than any other athlete. Overseas he was a celebrity but here in Southland he was just Derek of Tussock Creek, good mate to anyone who'd stop and have a natter, running companion to many, ardent conservationist and proud family man."
Much of Derek's running was on Forest Hill, a bush reserve close to his farm and home.
Evan McIntosh inspired the idea of the Derek Turnbull Track and the Department of Conservation carried it out. DOC and Evan both spoke and I included the following:
"I just wish there wasn't a reason for us all to be here, but it will be a magnificent and fitting tribute to Derek.
Visitors are here from Timaru, Dunedin, Balclutha, Gore, Wanaka, Queenstown, Te Anau, Stewart Island and local folk and friends. In some way Derek has touched all your lives.
Derek loved the Track, not only for running but to meet those who were also using the track. He would ask all he met who their parents and grandparents were, where they farmed and whereabouts and he usually knew someone from their families.
I'm a genealogist and one of our sayings is ' When an old person dies, it is as if a library has burnt down' and that was true of Derek, he had a wonderful memory for people.
If it happened that he didn't meet anyone on the Track, he would look dejected and would say 'no one there today, I'll have to go back tomorrow'."
So the signpost was then unveiled with pleasure and sadness.
I just wish there wasn't a reason for us to be here at all.....
But it will be a magnificent and fitting tribute to Derek.
And our family thank Evan McIntosh for putting forth this idea and to the Dept. of Conservation for implementing it. It will be a lasting memorial. And to Leanne Keenan from Doc for organising this afternoons events and refreshments. Thank you.
We have visitors here today from Timaru, Dunedin, Balclutha, Gore, Wanaka, Queenstown and Te Anau, Stewart Island, athletic clubs and local folk and friends. Thank you all for coming. In some way Derek has touched your lives. Our children and grandchildren participate in different sports. Granddaughter Devon Grant who is here today is going to be another Derek, look out for her in years to come. He will live on in her athletic successes.
As it has been said Derek loved the track but not only for running, but to meet those who were also using the track, he would ask all he met who their parents were, and their grandparents and if they farmed, and whereabouts, and he usually knew someone from their families. I’m a genealogist and one of our sayings is "When an old person dies, it is as if a library has burnt down". And that is true of Derek, he had a wonderful memory for people.
If it happened that he didn’t meet anyone on the track, I could tell as he walked inside, he would look quite dejected and would say, no one there today, I'll have to go back tomorrow.
So now when you enter here, give a thought to Derek as you read this sign, which I now have pleasure, and sadness, in unveiling.
Turnbull's memory honoured
(Southland Times Wed December 13, 2006)