THOUSANDS OF BARBADIANS would agree that such accolades as “the darling of Senior Games”, “pint-sized dynamo”, “the Rolls Royce of Senior Games” befit Shirley Harper, who has dominated her age group since 2005.
However, the affable former teacher, who was born on September 27, 1947, believes that her divine purpose has been to serve as a beacon to show many of her peers the hidden talents which God has given to them and which they should exploit to the fullest.
Ironically, it is hard to imagine that someone as focused as Harper taking part in anything by accident. Thus, following the lead of a greater power could be the better explanation as to how she got “hooked in teaching” where she gave “42 solid years” as well as her involvement into the National Senior Games which she kept putting off year after year.
After attending St James Primary, The Alexandra School and Queen’s College, Harper was conducting Sunday School at a church in Holetown where she was spotted by the owners of the Community High School who were so impressed by Harper’s obvious skills that they asked her to come and teach some classes at their school.
“That was when I got hooked and after attending the University of the West Indies starting at Cave Hill and finishing at St Augustine with my Bachelor of Science in Zoology, I embarked on a teaching career at Community High, Louis Lynch and St George Secondaryl, where I retired as deputy head after teaching physics, chemistry, geography and my favourite, biology,” said Harper.
“During my active days I never took part in athletics but I had spent a lot of time playing bat and ball on the beaches in St James and I would later play netball for Maple, who had a very strong team. However, in 2005 two guys at church remarked that I used to be active and that they would enter my name and theirs in the Senior Games.
“I remember that only one of the guys turned up and he went that one year. I went to have some fun, which I did and which I had planned to do the next year after procrastinating about entering the previous years.
“However, coach (Anthony) Lovell saw me and he saw something in me because he told me that he did not know what woodwork I had crawled out from but he suggested that if I would come and train with his ‘youngsters’ at Weymouth I would be heading to Utah (The World Seniors) the next year.
It was the next year, 2006, that Harper represented Barbados at the games and Utah which she has done with tremendous success since. It was also at those games that Harper experienced a mind change about being old.
“I remember growing up and having a grandmother in her 40s who looked old. Today we have persons in their 70s, 80s and 90s who are taking part in various physical activities and they look young.
“At those games in Utah nobody is considered old. There was this Japanese lady in her 90s who wore a sports bra and a short shorts and she was cheered every step. We have a similar thing now in Barbados where even the persons who are last in the long races are cheered by the spectators and they find renewed energy for the last 50 metres.
“I assure you that during my work days I would head to training extremely tired and after completing training I would find renewed energy that when I reached home I could pull down the house and put it back up,” remarked Harper.
While acknowledging the role which she and someone like Brenda Farley have played to provide motivation and hope for the seniors and the spectators, Harper was full of praise for the support which she continues to receive from friends and family.
“That support of family and friends has helped to carry out God’s mission of providing a light for others.
“Our seniors club at Freedom Striders creates social interaction for our members where we take part in a variety of activities to give more meaning to our twilight years.
“Our boardwalk get togethers celebrate the five and zeroes in our lives and we have our own award ceremonies. God has used me to help bring prayers into the group so that they have been growing spiritually.
“I retired from teaching as a deputy principal and I had decided that I would not come home and rust out.
“I thank those boys for putting my name on the application for the Senior Games in 2005 which opened a totally new activity and direction for me and so many others”, added Harper.
“I know that has been part of God’s divine purpose and not just the running. He puts me there as a beacon for others to follow. And I say wherever He puts me, and wherever He wants to use me, I am willing to be His ambassador as long as He gives me life and strength,” she added.