Cycling veteran turns 80! – Story and pics by Marie Pietersz. Melbourne

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Felix and Mavo
Felix and cake
Felix Riding

Cycling veteran turns 80! – Story and pics by Marie Pietersz. Melbourne

Felix George de Jong (affectionately known as Filo) celebrated his 80th birthday recently with a luncheon for family and  friends at the Walawwe (The Bungalow) Restaurant and Bar, Noble Park.

Felix was born in Kirillapone, Sri Lanka, to parents Victor and Rachel (nee Misso) de Jong, tenth in line and sole survivor of eleven children. He married in 1970 and has a daughter, Sabrina, with wife Genevieve, and two grandchildren, William and Ivy.               

Felix’s reputation preceded him when he migrated to Melbourne in 1971. The Sri Lankan community in Melbourne remembered him as dashing, debonair and fast on the pedals. He was none other than one of Ceylon’s finest cyclists of his era and a member of the Winged Wheel Cycle Club, perhaps the only reputed cycling club in Sri Lanka at that time. 

Educated in St Thomas’ College, Kotte, Felix took to sports rather late in his academic career, nevertheless achieving significant results as a all-round sportsman. He was Vice Captain of the Second XII College team, graduating to opening bowler and batsman of the First XII for three consecutive years. 

You could say Felix’s cricket style was unorthodox and is yet to be named and recorded in a cricket coaching manual and, in fact, may never, unfortunately, unlike Murali’s. Cover drives and late cuts were never heard of. It was ‘pol adi’ all the way, really confusing opposing team captains who were at their wit’s end to try and set up a field for him. Felix remembers one special incident at an inter-school match when he hit the opposing opening bowler for a six over extra cover. In that ‘Big Match’ against Christian College, he scored an opening stand of 90 runs with Maurice Gunasekera and captured four wickets for 36 runs, winning the all-rounder’s prize.

Felix’s sporting prowess extended to athletics, earning him the title of College champion for his performances in the 100 and 200 metres sprints and long jump.

Leaving school, Felix took to cycling in 1954 and became a member of the Winged Wheel Cycle club, cycling mostly for fun, nevertheless etching a few marks on the scoreboard along the way. 

He won the very first two-stage race in Ceylon organised by the Club – the first stage a fifty-mile road from Colombo to Labugama and back, and the second stage a time trial from Colombo to Moratuwa. 

In the Nugegoda Grand Prix he came second to David Manger, who Felix rates as “the finest cyclist of his era”, others included Maurice Coomarawel, Archibald Keil, Sam Keil, Hamilton Van Twest, Anthony Symons, Chandra Perera, Placidus Schroter and Trevor Newman. 

Felix recalls that the only race he did some serious training for was the Tour-de-Ceylon, coming third place behind Chandra Perera and MSM Lariff, and for very good reason – he had a flat tyre and had to wait for delivery of a spare bike –  nevertheless, going on to win the Tangalle to Colombo leg of the same race on a replacement bike. 

At the Novices Championship at the time, Felix came second behind Allan Brace who went on to be selected to represent Sri Lanka at the 1958 Empire Games in Cardif, Wales, but Felix shied away from taking his cycling skills to the professional heights he was capable of.

Loving his hobby and the sport of cycling, Felix analyses how far the sport has progressed in Sri Lanka. He acknowledges that there is keen interest, especially from riders outside Colombo, but regrets that cycling in Sri Lanka still lacks proper training, coaching facilities, equipment and regular track races to build strength and stamina. “Most importantly,” says the cycling maestro, “crash helmets for all cyclists must be introduced and they must start to be properly trained and mentored from the age of ten or eleven years if they are to reach the top in the sport.” He is emotional when he compares young Sri Lankan riders to young riders in Australia who have the best training opportunities and the latest model cycles. “The cycles in Sri Lanka are like museum pieces in comparison,” Felix said.

Felix gave up cycling for about four years to take up a tea-planting post at Kandapola. However, he was persuaded to make a comeback and participated in his second Tour-de-Lanka organised by Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. His training included riding once a week to Kandy, Nuwara-Eliya and Bandarawela, covering between 500-600 miles on each trip. However, he took part in the Amateur Class of the event, just wanting to race for the sheer love of the sport.

In Melbourne, this professional cyclist chose to slow down his speed and settled for an administrative post as Pay Officer in the former Tramways Board where he worked until 1978, retiring due to ill-health . He kept a beautiful home and garden and had a reputation for good looks, driving fine cars, a good dresser and an irrepressible joke teller and entertainer.  His passion for cycling changed to a passion for gardening and again he chose not to go professional with this hobby, even though his garden was good enough to compete in a garden competition.

In Melbourne, he took up yet another sport, this time it was Golf, playing with a handicap of 9, winning tournaments organised by the Australia-Ceylon Fellowship and later championships as a member of the Wattle Park Golf Club.

This eligible bachelor concentrated on caring for his daughter and his beloved pets until in 2002 he married Mavourneen Ludekens at a ceremony in his beautiful garden. Both homebirds, yet loving socialising and dancing, their home is often the venue where friends gather for regular parties and Felix is a kind and generous host when it comes to opening his home to special occasion events for Mav’s (his pet name for her) large family. He has three step-children and seven step-grandchildren who adore him. 

Felix’s happy-go-lucky demeanour continues to punch well above his peddling speed these days, and his jokes and entertaining has not slowed down any, continuing to make anybody smile who comes into contact with him. Almost equally people get to see the softer side of him as he is well known for often getting emotional at special occasions. 

Happy 80th birthday Felix and don’t hold back. Enjoy the ‘ride’ through the decade.

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