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South African Seniors Use Soccer To Stay Vital

December 4, 2009
As soccer lovers await the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, a dedicated group of local players in that country are inspiring seniors around the world. The team, Vakhegula Vakhegula, which means “the grannies” in their local language, was started by Beka Ntsanwisi, a lung cancer survivor whose doctor told her to stay active as part of her healing. Inspired to help others she would meet at clinics to improve their health, she invited older women in her community to join her in a soccer club so that they could exercise together. Three years later, the team is now one of eight that Ntsanwisi started in a league that runs competitions twice a year and includes players up to 83 years old. Members include stroke victims, high blood pressure patients and those battling other health issues. Despite their age, many are still in the work force, too, some as street vendors. They come together through soccer and, in turn, inspire others in their community to come out and watch them play. To avoid any serious injuries they set limits on aggressive play, but credit their twice a week training sessions with keeping them in better shape than people many years younger. Ntsanwisi, who funds any costs herself, hopes to one day find a sponsor and be able to award prize money to winning competitors. For now, she has given everyone a much greater gift, the opportunity to recapture some of the exuberance and vitality of their youth, a reward available to everyone who stays vital and exercises.