Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 146, Nov 2021 November 2021 | Page 18




Dierdre Larkin in fine form at the post-race media briefing after the SPAR Grand Prix event in Johannesburg at 90

Her transition from concert pianist to ‘ galloping granny ’ at 78 has brought Deirdre Larkin several World Records , countless television and print media interviews , and a roomful of medals , but she continues to run just for the sheer enjoyment of it , while inspiring everybody around her , from beginners and backmarkers all the way to world class athletes . And the 90-year-old does it all with a wicked sense of humour , too .

Two things are immediately evident about Deirdre Larkin when you first meet her , one of which is entirely expected , the other a pleasant surprise . Even at the age of 90 , and having battled osteoporosis , she sits up straight , with a firm posture , which makes sense , considering she was once a concert pianist . It ’ s something you don ’ t see much anymore – people sitting up straight – and while it ’ s not an important part of her character , it is nevertheless noticeable .

More importantly , she ’ s also got a cheeky sense of humour . It can catch you off guard , but her jovial approach makes conversation easier when you realise that she ’ s just having a bit of fun . In fact , Deirdre delivers a punchline with such a straight face , it ’ s difficult to tell if she ’ s joking or being serious . It ’ s a sparkling element of her character that allows her personality to take control of a room – perhaps another remnant of her past as an entertainer on the ivory keys .
Thanks to all the success she has enjoyed in road running since taking up the sport in her
70s , Deirdre has become one of South Africa ’ s best age-group runners , and has set multiple World Records or World Bests . However , she has remained the same humble , unassuming and approachable person she always was , and even uses humour to deal with the constant attention that her running prowess attracts . “ I don ’ t compete , I just take part ,” she says ironically , after stepping off yet another podium at the SPAR race .
Centre of Attention
Just a week after celebrating her 90th birthday in September , Deirdre finished third in the great grandmasters ( 70-plus ) age category at the Johannesburg leg of the SPAR Grand Prix Series . She clocked 1:19:23 , which athletics statistician Riël Hauman says is almost certainly the fastest ever 10km run by a 90-year-old woman in the world . The organisers then invited her to address the media at the post-race media conference , and she lit up the room . It ’ s an environment that can be relatively gloomy , with reporters firing questions at tired professional athletes , but it was transformed into an entertaining show , with Deirdre the undoubted star of the show .
It doesn ’ t take Deirdre long to tear down the stereotypes that usually follow her into a room . Unlike many her age , she isn ’ t ready to settle down and make quilts while her grandkids or great grandkids play at her feet . Instead , the nonagenarian is changing gears as she guns it towards her centenary , and it seems nothing can slow her down .
She evoked such a strong reaction that even the race winner , 20-year-old Ethiopian athlete Tadu Nare , who can barely speak English , was in stitches when Deirdre responded to the media ’ s questions by describing her dislike for Pilates and knitting . Tadu , who won all six races in the Grand Prix series , was so overwhelmed by Deidre ’ s presence that the usually quiet and reserved young athlete gave the older runner a hug and a kiss after the press conference !
A Late Transition
In a happier place when she ’ s running than when she ’ s sitting down , Deirdre the concert pianist and piano teacher – she taught for many years at Kingsmead School – has evolved into Deirdre the galloping granny . When you enter her home in Randburg , where she has lived for more than 50 years , there are two pianos at one end of a large lounge . She retired a couple of years ago , and though the piano played a huge role in her life
Images : Reg Caldecott & courtesy Carte Blanche , Run Zone AC , Tuks Athletics
18 ISSUE 146 NOVEMBER 2021 | www . modernathlete . co . za