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Celebrating Senior Champions

Posted By Marilynh / October 3, 2018 / 0 Comments

 The UN declared October 1 as International Day of Older Persons. 

The 2018 UN theme is “Celebrating Champions”. 

YEI brings you three incredible South African senior champions.


Celebrating senior champions


October is an important month in the calendar of seniors.

In December 1990, the United Nations declared October 1 as the International Day of Older Persons.  The intention was, and is, to ensure and remind communities and the government that older people need to participate in the world around them.  It is also a time to celebrate the contribution that seniors make to society in general.

Today, we sit with a huge challenge of an ageing population.  Worldwide, there are almost 700 million people over the age of 60. By 2030, the world’s over-60 population is expected to reach 1.4 billion, and by 2050, 2 billion people.  Asia is believed to be the region with the largest number of older persons, and Africa also faces a large proportionate growth.  Attention to the particular needs and challenges faced by older people is clearly required.  Government/society/communities all need to urgently address the essential contribution that the majority of seniors can continue to make to the functioning of society.

On a light-hearted note, 7 October is Grandparents Day, and coupled with this year’s UN theme of “Celebrating Champions”, YEI has every reason to celebrate seniors in this wonderful country of ours.
Today, we celebrate three incredible senior champions…


Deirdre Larkin

Deirdre Larkin – not your average octogenarian

So how does a former concert pianist, and current piano teacher, get to earn the titles of South Africa’s fittest 87-year old granny and Randburg’s Grand Dame?!

Deirdre Larkin is living proof that it is never too late to start getting active.  Deirdre first started running at the age of 78, and year-by-year, she becomes stronger, keener and has accumulated over 500 running medals to her name.  Deirdre is a mother of four, grandmother of five, and by all accounts, a South African celeb, having appeared in Carte Blanche, graced the cover of Modern Athlete and appeared in countless international news snippets!

Deirdre told YEI “Since July 2017 I have been continuing to run races each weekend. This usually involves two races, one in Pretoria on Saturday and one around Joburg on Sundays.  The most amazing race was the Spar Womens Challenge at the Supersport Park, Centurion on 4th August this year. I came 2nd in the 70+ category.  My time was 1hr10mins and I was told afterwards that this was a world record for my age group (85+ yrs.  I have recently turned 87). Later, the Spar invited me as  a Special Guest to attend their Spar Joburg Race Celebration at Buitengeluk, Broadacres. Many of the elite athletes were there and we were all rewarded with fantastic gifts and flowers”.

Deirdre’s races include the Uniwisp Kaapsehoep 3-in-1 Marathon in Nelspruit,  15km runs at Wits University, the Dischem, Pick’n Pay, Johnson Crane  and Hartebeespoort “Om die Dam” Half Marathons, Two Oceans Half Marathon, the Gerald Fox 10kms at Johannesburg Zoo and the Springbok Vasbyt.

“I really enjoy running and I look forward to each weekend. Weekends are always an adventure as each race is different and one meets such super, friendly people.”

“What has been a great joy to me this year is that my daughter Catherine has frequently joined me in the races. She is showing much promise as a 50yr old runner but finding the time is difficult for her as she manages her own business. She brings her computer with her so that she can work while I attend Prize Giving to receive my numerous gold medals!”

What a champion Deirdre is!  And an amazing example on how staying active and healthy gives you vigour and increased longevity. “Running makes me feel excited and happy. I run 7-8 km a day, at least four days a week.  Prior to running, I always warm up with 45 minutes of strength and flexibility training.  In the last 15 years I have only visited my doctor for relief from the flu.  I go annually for check-ups and X-rays, but all seems ok so far.”

I often hear people saying to me “I can’t do it”.  I believe that you are never too old or frail to tackle something new and learn new skills.  Don’t let your limbs become stiff and brittle – keeping moving is vital to life!



Lillian Masebenza


Lillian Masebenza – unsung heroine of the abused and disabled

Lillian Masebenza might be a 69-year old retiree, but to her great credit, has received countless entrepreneurship awards.  Lillian previously worked as Old Mutual’s Marketing Manager and on retiring, moved on to do community work in her retirement and works towards addressing a social need in South Africa and realising her vision of an empowered Africa.

Lillian might have retired, but she recognised that her intentions were firmly rooted in the African soil of her heritage.  Her passion lies with the vulnerable – the abused women and disabled people in her community and in the country.  Lillian manages to combine her sensitivity for the needs of Africa, with a sound and visionary understanding of business practice that is bringing much needed productivity, dignity and security to the people of her motherland. 

Lillian established Mhani Gingi in 2006.  Mhani Gingi – when translated into English – stands for a caring, industrious woman who is always looking for lasting solutions to social problems. Mhani Gingi is a non-profit organization that strives to provide innovative business solutions which are sustainable and profitable, thereby contributing towards alleviating poverty in South Africa.  Lillian sees Mhani Gingi as a solution based on the premise of social practice amongst communities, not in the sense of handouts, but rather on the basis of working together and sharing where possible. Lillian says:  “Its creation was inspired by my desire to solve our pressing social problems.”

One particular Mhani Gingi project benefits women from various communities by enabling them to learn how to grow various types of vegetables and herbs.  The Mhani Gingi Garden and Nursery feeds the communities, and the produce is sold for income, providing sustainability for the families involved.  Lillian told YEI that Mhani Gingi has established a Centre of Excellence at Saartjie Baartman Centre for women, which comprises of 3 growing tunnels, a hot house, a Hand Liquid Soap making factory by abused women and a Training Hub  “I am so excited about the wheelchair walk and ramp that we managed to unveil on 24 July 2018.  This has enabled some of our community members who are in wheelchairs to be able to work in the vertical garden and the nursery” said Masebenza

We salute Lillian Masebenza who won’t tell you the following (we had to research this!) –  She received the Venda Development Corporation Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 1993 and the Great North Emergent Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 1994 for her efforts. She was made an Ashoka Fellow in 2008.   Lillian has won a number of accolades.  She has been a Speaker on Social Entrepreneurship and poverty eradication issues, locally, including during Women’s Parliament and  internationally. Also she was a finalist in the Businesswomen’s Association South Africa Business Achiever Award in 2008 plus a finalist in the Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010, The University Startup World Cupplus the Venture Cup competition in Copenhagen in 2015, and the SAB Foundation Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Award, 2018. She received a Certificate of Recognition at the  2018 August 9th Women in Environment Indaba (this certificate honours projects that contribute towards women’s empowerment in the environmental sector)

Find out how you can get involved in Mhani Gingi, the social entrepreneurial network here.


Shirley Whitmore


Shirley Whitmore – Master sexagenarian!

“The world’s healthiest sport, and renown for pushing players to the limit of their strength, balance and agility”.  Not only is Shirley Whitmore a champion squash player, but she is at the top of her game, having recently won the Over 60’s SA Masters squash championships in Johannesburg for the 3rd year in a row!

The World Health Organisation reports that physical activity drastically improves general health and reduces the risk of certain diseases, but why does one choose probably the most energetic high intensity workout out of any sport?

Shirley Whitmore is 63 years old.   She has played sport all of her life and started at a very early age with skating where she performed in two ice shows in Durban – “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Mother Goose” on ice.  She switched to tennis and netball in primary school, concentrating mainly on tennis where she represented Natal and was selected for the SA Junior Training Squad, but then moved into squash at the age of 20.

After representing both Natal and Western Province at squash, her highlight came, when she  reached Masters Squash at the age of 40.  She was selected for a South African team to play against Wales and England in an unforgettable tour in 1996.

In 1997, Shirley came 2nd in the 1997 World Masters Squash championships, winning a silver medal.  She then relaxed from international competition to support her daughter Kim while travelling with her, as she too represented SA Junior tennis, WP hockey and WP Mathematics.  Once her daughter had moved on to University, Shirley resumed her competitive streak, and this year, she not only finished with a top medal in the Two Oceans 12km trail run, but won the Over 60’s SA Masters squash championships in Johannesburg for the 3rd year in a row.

Shirley was not going to stop there.  In August this year, Shirley won the bronze medal in the World Masters Squash Championships in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.

Shirley told YEI that “My aim now is to train and improve to once again either win the gold or silver medal at the World Masters Squash Championships to be held in Poland in 2020”.

We salute you, Shirley!  There is no greater glory than the opportunity to represent your country.  And what an example you are to other sixty-somethings!

Are you a senior champion, or do you know of a senior champion?

If you know a sports champion, a champion in your community,
in your retirement village, or a champion in your family,
do let us know.

Email YEI and let us know about the champions in your lives….


If you enjoyed this article, consider reading the following:

A YEI reader story: From a hotelier to life in a wheelchair

85-year old Zip Lining Granny!




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