World

100 Women: Age is just a number for these athletes

Deirdre Larkin, 86, is seen running in a purple T-shirt. Image copyright Getty Images

As part of this year's 100 Women Challenge, female athletes, campaigners and designers were tasked with coming up with finding ways to tackle sexism in sport.

One of the things they found out is that girls and young women are more likely to be put off sport, compared to their male peers.

For most of their adult lives, none of these older women took part in sport.

But they've proved that it's never too late to get back on track.

You can watch the 100 Women Challenge: Levelling the Playing Field on BBC iPlayer - available until 8 January.

Deirdre Larkin, 86, South Africa

It came as life's biggest surprise when Deirdre Larkin realised she enjoyed running at the age of 78. At school, she always avoided sports and was mostly put in goal.

A retired concert pianist, her only recollection of running at school is racing from piano lessons to academic ones.

When her son moved in with her at her Johannesburg home, she started running with him three times a week.

"Now, I train for five days a week for around an hour of going uphill and downhill," she says.

In the last year alone, she completed 65 races and she's previously run a half marathon in two hours and five minutes, setting a world record in the 85+ category.

"The more I run, the more I enjoy it," says Ms Larkin.

Image copyright Getty Images

Born with a missing vertebra, she underwent a spinal fusion surgery at the age of 39. At the age of 69, she was diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Undeterred, she turned her focus to a healthy diet and exercises, saying: "I stay away from sugar, salt, white flour and caffeine."

Having tried the gym, yoga and pilates, she realised running was her passion.

"The older you get, the more important it is that you engage in physical exercise. This is because you tend to get lazy. But choose exercises that you enjoy and try them gently first."

Image copyright Getty Images

Man Kaur, 101, India

Man Kaur first ran when she was 93.

Before then, the only exercise she got was walking for long distances to everyday places - to the market to pick up groceries or to the gurdwara to pray - between juggling work and chores in the Indian city of Chandigarh.

"Married at the age of 18, I never had any the chance or inclination to practise running," she says.

Over the last eight years, Ms Kaur has won 20 medals from competitions around the world and also holds a gold medal at a 100m race at the World Masters Games in New Zealand in April.

She was the sole competitor in the 100+ category at the competition.

Like Deirdre Larkin, Ms Kaur was first encouraged to run by her son.

Gurdev Singh, now 79, had participated at the World Masters Games and asked his mother to train with him, after seeing older women take part.

"When I run, I feel very happy, I want to keep running and participate in more competitions," says the centenarian.

A daily 30-minute training regime and a protein-rich diet is the key to her fitness, she says.

For now, Ms Kaur is practising hard for the 2018 World Masters Athletics Championship.

"I want to run more," she says.

Image copyright Carol LaFayette-Boyd

Carol LaFayette-Boyd, 75, Canada

Carol LaFayette-Boyd, 75, sometimes toys with the idea of spending her time doing things other than being on the track, but the thought doesn't last long.

"It just feels good to run and jump and know you can. I plan to stick at it until I am one hundred and something," says Ms LaFayette-Boyd.

At school, she played basketball but she only rediscovered her love of sports when she was 50.

When she heard the Canadian Masters Games would be held in her hometown Regina, she decided to give it a shot. Initially, she ran 100m and 200m. Soon, she was also participating in high jump, long jump and triple jump races.

"I feel satisfied after winning my gold and doing better than I did the last jump or the last race," says Ms LaFayette-Boyd.

But she remembers how emotional she was when she won the gold in two races in Italy in 2007.

"I actually cried with joy when I went to phone my husband. It was such a feat to beat the world record holder after she had won the month before," she says.

"Usually I say I am going for a personal best, but at that time, I had said I am going for a gold."

Image copyright Margaret Tosh

Margaret Tosh, 80, Canada

Margaret Tosh identifies herself as a person who puts "everything in sports". At the age of 80, the former Olympian is still going strong.

"From childhood, I wanted to be physically strong. I was out farming with my father... I was much more aggressive than my sisters. I never quit until I accomplish what I set out to do," she says Ms Tosh.

Recent reports suggest teenage girls can be put off sport because of concerns about their appearance.

Growing up in Mervin village, Ms Tosh says she never had these worries. After school, she was busy carrying wood to the house, feeding cattle and cleaning barns.

"With all these activities to deal with, we never thought of body image," she says.

After competing in the javelin in the 1956 Olympics, she stopped participating in sport for many years.

"At 68, I suddenly realised I kind of missed it. I started competing again. I was always competitive and I still am," she says.

Ms Tosh says her edge over other competitors is always being "in shape". She practises all five throws - discus, hammer, javelin, shot put and weight throw - every day, with a break on Sundays.

"What's the point of waking up in the morning if you do not have goals? I set goals - all the time."