Shirley Harper in full stride during the recent Senior Games (Ministry of Social Care)??

In the past, the daily activities of retired persons in the community, for the post-employment years, involved watching daily soap operas, doing household chores, chatting for long periods with other retired friends, or just finding odd things to do to fill the void between wake and sleep.

However, within recent years, the large number of senior citizens who can be seen sporting the trendiest athletic gear, briskly walking the highways or sprinting across playing fields, have proven that those previous conceptions are certainly a thing of the past.

Physical activity and the fostering of healthy lifestyles have been placed high on the agenda of this island’s seniors, and it is a trend that will be followed for generations to come.

This sentiment was echoed by 64-year-old Shirley Harper, who, along with others in her age group, engage in a regular fitness regime at Weymouth pasture, in the City. Mrs. Harper proclaimed that "the time is long past when seniors should be made to feel that there is nothing else for them, but to wait to die", and insisted that they still had much to contribute.??

The retired teacher is an avid participant in the annual National Senior Games which are hosted by the Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development. She first took part in 2005, following encouragement from members of her church, and has since become a recognised athlete, both locally and at the Huntsman Senior Games which are held in Utah, USA.??

"I believe now that God wanted me to be there…The first year I went up there was after 30 something years of not doing anything in that line of activity. By the end of the day my legs felt like lead. But, I got some third places, so I felt happy with that," Mrs. Harper joked.

Admitting that her intentions were merely to have fun, she pointed out that it was the foresight and reassurance of veteran coach, the late Anthony Lovell, that boosted her training.

"In that very first year, coach Lovell saw potential that I wasn’t even thinking about, and he said to me ???I don’t know which woodwork you now came out of, but if you come with me and train with my group I guarantee you will be in Utah for 2006.’ And I took up the offer, and we were in Utah the next year," she reminisced.

Her trip to the Huntsman Games that year proved successful as Mrs. Harper won bronze medals in the 50, 100 and 200 metres races running in the 55 – 59 age group. Subsequently, in 2008, she won six gold medals and broke the record in the 400 metres for the 60-64 age group.

The senior athlete has attributed her achievements to dedication, determination and consistency, but noted that it was not always easy. "Sometimes, the way was rough. There were times I didn’t feel like going to training, there were times when my body was telling me I had enough of this, but then I went and I realised that I could see myself improving," Mrs. Harper pointed out.

The slimly-built woman is very proud of the level of fitness which she has achieved, and boasts no chronic illnesses despite the prevalence of hypertension and diabetes in her family. Noting, however, that her eating habits also play a part in her upkeep, Mrs. Harper stated: "I enjoy eating everything, but I believe [there must]

still be moderation at the end of the day…I give God thanks, ask him to bless my food and eat in moderation."

Endorsing the Ministry’s Active Ageing, Ageing Active policy, she stressed that exercise was necessary, not only in preparation for the Senior Games, but to ensure a healthier lifestyle. "I believe that all of us, at whatever age, should really try to have the highest quality of life possible…If you start, you may be surprised by what you end up doing – the level you can reach. I never saw Utah on my programme, not by any stretch of the imagination. I never saw myself as an athlete going out of the island," she reasoned.??

She lauded the Ministry for implementing the locally staged athletic meet, and facilitating the trip to the international meet in Utah, but expressed the need for more post-retirement activities. The active senior concluded that lack of activity in the "golden years" resulted in boredom, which she deemed as "a slow killer".

"I am not sitting down in any rocking chair and rocking my years away. I can hardly catch up with myself…If you have nothing purposeful, nothing of interest, to live for what are you living for? Life must have a purpose!" she asserted.

She underlined that the games set the pace for the future, and believes that "the younger ones coming after us can look forward to the golden years of activity and not the mindset that you get old and get cast aside. I think that is disrespectful to persons who have worked so hard to build the country…A lot of our seniors have very fine minds and we need to keep them in an environment with activity available for them that develops their mind."

Mrs. Harper, who had a keen interest in netball during her younger years, took the gold in the 50 and 400 metres; silver in the 100 and 200 metres; and silver in the long jump, at this year’s Senior Games, which came off at the National Stadium on Saturday, April 21.


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