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Meet the Active Ager heroes

11 October 2018 ( 16 October 2018 )

The Active Agers award is given to an individual aged 60 or over whose attitude and approach to ageing is an inspiration to us all. Meet 2018’s finalists…

An older man waves a Union Jack from a mountain in silhouette

This month, global hearing-health specialist Amplifon will announce the winners of its Brave Britons awards at a star-studded lunch in London. The Active Agers award recipient will represent an individual aged 60 or over whose attitude and approach to ageing is an inspiration to us all. Meet this year’s finalists…

Bill Mitchell, 74, from Belper, Derby

Bill Mitchell started running at 63 and at 74 has broken records and clocked up an impressive number of 227 races – 157 of which were marathons and ultra-marathons.

Bill’s story began when he was on holiday in Malta with his wife in 2007. Bill visited the hotel gym where a trainer commented on his excellent level of fitness. Back at the same destination the following year, the trainer commented again but this time to point out a decline in Bill’s fitness from the previous year.

Back home, Bill, who runs a marquee company, decided to do something about it. With January and February being quiet months for him workwise, he took to walking a three-mile loop around his local park every day – the terrain being a mix of hills and flat sections.

Slowly but surely, Bill challenged himself to jog the flat sections of the route to push his fitness and after a few months, could run the entire route without stopping and by October that same year, successfully completed his first 10k competitive race.

By Christmas, this had turned into three 10k races and by the end of the following year, Bill had completed 28 races including half marathons. And 2010 was the year that Bill completed his first full marathon in London, followed by three more in Edinburgh, Tenby and Dublin.

The years that followed saw Bill increase his number of marathons each year – a target that he had set himself to challenge his fitness as the years rolled by. Seven marathons in 2011; 12 in 2012; 24 in 2013; 30 in 2014; 33 in 2015.

By 2016, Bill decided to challenge himself even further and signed up for the Marathon des Sables; 156 miles across the Sahara Desert. He succeeded and became the oldest Briton to ever cross the MDS finish line, beating Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ age record by seven months.

Bill has already set his sights on his next intense challenge – Atacama Crossing, Chile, over seven days across a wide variety of terrain including 1,683 metres of ascents, across salt flats and over huge sand dunes.

Bill said: “I don’t do anything by half! I’m not a person who would be happy sitting around doing nothing – that’s why I haven’t retired yet either, I like to give myself plenty to do.

“Every year I set myself a target – by the end of 2019 I want to have completed 200 marathons. Targets are good for everyone, it’s good to have something to aim for otherwise at this age, it’s easy for people to sit around and expect the worse.”

October 16, update - Bill was the winner of the Active Ager award - well done Bill!

David Raeburn, 91, from Oxford

David Raeburn recently turned 91 and is a prominent figure around the Oxford University campus.

David is a lecturer in Classics, directing Greek tragedies, translating and writing books and taking students on educational trips abroad. He spent the majority of his career in education – 28 years as Head Teacher of Whitgift School, Croydon, finally retiring in 1991.

After spending seven years in retirement, aged 81, David decided he wanted to ‘something interesting to do’ with his time and so, offered his services to Oxford University to pursue his hobby and enthusiasm for Classics.

The university in turn offered David a contract to teach the subject at New College. In addition to lecturing each week, David continued to write Greek tragedies as an additional hobby, which he has done throughout his career and has directed a number of performances at the university. 

His most recent adaptation took place this summer and over 400 people came to watch from Oxford and further afield in the beautiful setting of New College’s grounds, synonymous with the Harry Potter films.

David is already planning next summer’s performance – an adaptation of a Greek comedy for Brexit.

An ardent enthusiast for making Classics widely accessible, he set up - and for 18 years directed - a flourishing Summer School in Ancient Greek at Bryanston, Dorset that still runs annually.

For the last few years, David has also accompanied 14 students on a reading party trip to Greece – his latest trip took place earlier this month.  

Furthering his interest in ancient Greek history, David has also translated Sophocles’ Electra and Other Plays and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, when he was 81 and 87, respectively.

David said: “Although there is a lot of intensive work involved in what I do day-to-day; I don’t feel tired. What I do is certainly more of a hobby than a chore and being retired just didn’t suit me. I have a great enthusiasm for Classics and I enjoy working with young people, so my present role allows me both.”

Ede Smith, 75, from Melton Mowbray

‘Ninja Nan’ Ede Smith who has recovered from cancer and is training for her black belt in karate.

Twenty-five years ago, Ede began practising taekwondo regularly. She had just turned 50 and it was her favourite way to keep fit and stay focused. 

Ede, of Great Dalby, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, was later diagnosed with cervical cancer and what followed was a course of intensive treatments, all of which she says she approached with a ‘positive mind’ and successfully beat the disease.

Back to full health, Ede went along to a karate class with her grandson – he wanted to try it out and she accepted his invitation to go along with him.

Ede enjoyed the class and it reinvigorated her love for martial arts, so she decided to take up karate as her new hobby.

Practising at local classes three times a week, Ede has since gone on to win several karate medals and is currently wearing a brown belt with a target of gaining her black belt over the next couple of years. And now, aged 75, she can flip a man three times her weight!

Despite also having an operation on her knee and suffering from arthritis, Ede carries on with her beloved hobby.

Ede said: “You’ve got to get on and live your life to the full. Some of the classes that I go to are full of young people and that’s great for me.

'They keep me young. It also means that I am more challenged in the class as they keep me on my toes!'

Not content with just practising karate, Ede has also dared to go parachuting and abseiling and has ambitions of wing walking before she turns 80.

But what do her family think about her love for what most would think were extreme sports? She answered: 'They all think I’m on the nutty side!'

Norma Howard, 91, from Hampshire

Norma Howard is the oldest female wing walker in the UK after setting a new record earlier this year.

Norma, a spritely 91-year-old, took to the skies above Gloucestershire, strapped to a vintage biplane and reached heights of 500ft to raise money to fund the charity’s Admiral Nurses scheme.

And her daring escapade linked to her other jaw-dropping activities during her eighties have catapulted her into finals.

Nurses in the Admiral scheme work alongside people with dementia and their families giving them a lifeline with one-to-one support, expert guidance and practical solutions.

Norma, of Church Crookham, Hampshire, raised over £3,000 and chose the charity as a lot of friends and relatives have suffered from the disease and wanted to bring awareness to the cause in a very unique way.

After reaching the ground safely, Norma said: 'I feel very relieved but also invigorated. It was cold up there and I had so many layers on me I looked like the Michelin Man. The hardest bit was actually getting up onto the plane wrapped in so many clothes!'

She's no stranger to daredevil challenges. At the age of 80, Norma twice swam the equivalent of the English Channel in a swimming pool.

And eight years ago, aged 83, she sat on the handlebars of a 1925 Indian motorbike riding the Wall of Death, in her words, 'Just for the hell of it!'.

Earlier in her life, Norma achieved her Private Pilot’s Licence and spent a lot of her free time flying.

Norma, who spends her free time helping elderly friends to and from hospital has ambitions of abseiling Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower for her next personal challenge.

Commenting on her active efforts, Norma said: 'I find it hard to resist a dare – I’ll give anything a go if somebody sets me a challenge.'

The awards

Bill, David, Ede and Norma Bill have been invited to attend the Amplifon Brave Britons finals luncheon at the Army and Navy Club, in Pall Mall, London, on October 16, where Falklands War hero Simon Weston will present the awards.

Set up in honour of Amplifon’s founder, Second World War Hero Major Charles Holland, the awards recognise courage and achievement in the categories of Active Ager, Charity Champion, Service to their Country, Young Hero and Against All Odds. Animals who have transformed the lives of their owners are honoured in the Hero Pet category.

Charles Holland was awarded both the MBE and the Military Cross and received the Bronze Star from the United States Government in 1948 for his bravery behind enemy lines during the Second World War.

After the war, the courageous veteran dedicated his life to providing better hearing for people affected by the conflict and in 1950 launched Amplifon, which has become a global company specialising in providing the best in class hearing solutions and devices.

Giuseppe Manzo, general manager for Amplifon UK & Eire, said: 'We received some fantastic entries in the Active Ager category and the four finalists truly embody the heroism shown by Charles Holland.'

A panel of judges will choose an Overall Hero Award from the category winners, who will win a trip to Italy.

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