Age is nothing but a number

The 64-year-old Basie Human puts the members of the Lilliesleaf Community Care Group through their paces. PHOTO: EARL COETZEE

In Heidedal grandparents come in two varieties. You get “old old people”, and you get “young old people”.
One look at Basie Human, as he bounces around the lawn at the Clive Solomon Stadium, makes it abundantly clear that the 64-year-old falls into the latter category.
These are the old folks who don’t need any help when getting up after sitting down too long. The ones who don’t need a cane to help them along, and who are still speedy enough to chase down their naughty grandkids when a hiding is in order.
Several days a week, one can see a whole bunch of these young old folks at Clive Solomon, putting Heidedal’s young crowd to shame with their vigour and zest for life.
“It gets me extremely excited to see old men, even older than me, that are able to participate in sporting codes as if they are young kids,” Human laughs, as he explains the purpose behind Heidedal’s Lilliesleaf Community Care Group. “In fact, young kids nowadays get tired way faster than us.”
Human joined the Lilliesleaf programme shortly after it was founded in March last year. Today he is the coach, directing approximately 40 men and women, some up to ten years older than he, through their aerobic and stretching exercises, four times a week.
“My fitness has improved. My health has improved. I used to get a lot of pains in my arms and legs, and all over my body. Today I have no problems, which is why I actually feel guilty if I miss a day of exercise,” Human says of his passion for fitness.
Lilliesleaf was founded by Susan Pienaar last year when she noticed a lack of activities and programmes catering to the community’s senior residents.
“I realised that things aren’t looking good for us old people. The grants we get from government isn’t enough, and I just felt the need to do something to improve our lives. And fortunately some of the doors I knocked on opened for me.”
Pienaar decided to gather up some of her friends and neighbours and got them active, leading to a rapid increase in the number of Heidedal’s “young old”. Today the club boasts close to 300 active members.
And keeping fit isn’t the only issue Lilliesleaf has chosen to address.
“We exercise. We are busy organising a concert. We sing. We do door-to-door visits. When we notice an old person has been absent for a while, we make sure they are taken care of if they are sick,” Pienaar says.
The group had also provided some of its disadvantaged members with food parcels and blankets in the past. However, a lack of funding means these interventions are few and far between. But, they choose to focus on what they can do, and are extremely proud of the achievers among them.
And when it comes to standing out, no one does it better than Lena Swartz.
This 62-year-old has skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom, which she attributes to having never smoked or drunk alcohol. “I had to carry a copy of my ID with me all the time at the Golden Games, because everyone thought I was too young to be there,” she beams.
But she attributes her success at the South African Golden Games, where she won gold in the Dress-Up sprints category, to Lilliesleaf.
“The exercises we do here are very good. We aren’t as sickly as before. You feel fresh and as if you can still contribute, even though you’ve come on in years. You feel like a sixteen-year-old.”
Watching the group of sixty- and seventy-somethings go about their exercises, is enough to make your average couch-potato teen breathless.
With Human taking the lead, they go through a barrage of stretches, leaps, and cardio-exercises. Wrinkly old arms flap about, while a little girl and her puppy look on. Even the dog looks ready to start panting. About fifteen minutes in, with beads of sweat dripping from their grey heads over their wrinkly brows, you think they are ready to stop. However, they simply take a small break, to discuss which exercises they forgot.
“I think we have to do ‘good mornings’ and then knee raises,” one yells out, before they go at it again. Bending, raising, bending…
The session ends with a group huddle and the chant: “Lilliesleaf! Yes! Lilliesleaf! Yes! Lilliesleaf! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
– The Lilliesleaf Community Care Group will be marching from Hillcrest Street in Heidedal at 09:00 on Saturday, in order to inspire the youth in Heidedal to join them in getting active. – Earl Coetzee