WHILE the spotlight was rightly on the winners in the respective categories of the inaugural NetOne-Albun Honde Valley Marathon held in the Eastern Highlands recently, 92-year-old Mrs Julia Zisengwe of Chikanga, Mutare, somewhat stole the show after managing to complete the 5km run.
While there were podium finish awards for some, there was an even bigger reward for her — the calibration of her health, physical fitness and wellness.
While other participants were sweating it out for an initial outing in this first-of-its kind occasion, the nonagenarian has been running a good race everyday for over half of her nine-decade existence.
While most participants were competing with others during the marathon, she was simply out to better her personal best and record another milestone in her illustrious history of participating in similar events.
In a remarkable moment to savour, Gogo Zisengwe won the admiration and plaudits of other competitors and spectators after she accomplished the rare feat.
As she was on the home stretch, she did not show any signs of lethargy and discomfort.
In fact, she leisurely strolled past the finish line; much to the jubilation of her family and ululation of onlookers.
Even those who initially doubted her were left dazzled.
Despite her participation in the 5km run for fun, it did not go in vain.
For breaking her sweat, the 92-year-old did not leave empty-handed, but walked away US$100 richer after an impressed well-wisher who declined to be named handed her the money.
She also received two hampers as consolation prizes from some of the event’s sponsors.
However, this was not the first time out for Gogo Zisengwe.
In fact, she has a been-there-done-that aura.
The widower, wife to the late former mayor of Mutare – Mr Solomon Zisengwe – is simply cut from a different cloth.
She is unique as her norms, values and outlook differ from many.
The nonagenarian is no ordinary gogo.
At 92, Gogo Zisengwe is still going strong.
For her, where there is a will, there is a way.
Indeed, Gogo Zisengwe holds the compass that shows the way to a long life.
“I am a health and wellness enthusiast. I religiously carry out exercise routines every day, either walking or running, and these have helped drive away infirmity.
“There are active processes through which I have become aware of the need to uphold a healthy lifestyle and made deliberate efforts towards a more fulfilling existence.
“As such, I have been participating in similar marathons and l am actually losing count of how many I have partook. Mine is amateur participation and I have grown accustomed to it.
“I have in place a daily work-out aimed at achieving a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. This helps me beat boredom and clinical stress as well as reduce the risk of diseases.
“Even at home I am hardly idle as I do some activities, both indoors and outdoors, just to keep fit, improve mental health, manage weight and strengthen my bones and muscles. While at it, I also ensure that I enjoy quality sleep and get enough rest,” said the nonagenarian with an infectious smile beaming on her radiant face.
Gogo Zisengwe is also smart when it comes to eating, preferring organically produced nourishment.
As an old-timer, getting back to the basics is the way to go for her.
Nothing beats that, she reiterates.
She explains: “Life is the greatest gift God has blessed us with and the best I can do is to take very good care of it. For that reason, I maintain a strict diet regime. I manage my eating habits very well.
“I am very particular about what I take, most of which is traditional food, whole grains as well as fruits and vegetables. Give me mufushwa (dried vegetables), black jack and food prepared from rapoko, sorghum and millet, among others, anytime, anywhere, because they have wholesome nutritional value.
“Every morning I take a glass of water with lemon or ginger. I am proud that I come from the rich province of Manicaland and thoroughly enjoy eating bananas, avocados and yams from Honde Valley, as well pineapples from Chimanimani and apples from Nyanga. As a result, I do not suffer from any chronic health conditions,” she said.
Regular exercising coupled with a healthy diet has taken her thus far, the elderly woman reckons.
Gogo Zisengwe said anyone who fancies living a long life must steer clear of drugs and substance abuse as those have devastating effects on both individuals and communities.
“Drugs are harmful. They have far-reaching physical, mental, emotional and social repercussions. People, especially the younger generation, must desist from taking dangerous substances.
“We need responsible parents and children who are not involved in drugs as the effects are hazardous to those who use them and also those around them.
“Being drug-free can help people lead long lives. It therefore calls for concerted and collaborative efforts among stakeholders to effectively tackle the scourge that has become a menace in our communities. Fighting substance abuse is a shared concern and our collective responsibility,” said Gogo Zisengwe.
She added that a disciplined person seldom strays into deviance, which corrupts our culture and our identity.
Emulation and inspiration
During the 5km marathon, Gogo Zisengwe was in the blissful and supportive company of her three daughters – Mrs Dulcie Chirara (68), Audrey (65) and Mrs Barbara Mukahanana (63) and three great grandchildren.
Her enthusiasm for fitness and well-being has rubbed off onto her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Running now runs in the family, says Mrs Mukahanana.
“Our mother is such an inspiration. Many in the family are taking after her – from us her children, it has cascaded to grandchildren and great grandchildren. It has become a family affair and we are catching our grandchildren young.
“My sister, Dulcie, who once competed in the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, also participated in this Honde Valley Marathon. She finished first in the grandmasters category of the 21km race.
“My other sister, Audrey, is also an athlete, while her grandchildren, Malary and Tafadzwa, are professional runners based in the UK and South Africa respectively.
“That goes to show how Gogo Zisengwe’s inspiration has spanned generations and endured decades,” said Mrs Mukahanana.
Gogo Zisengwe’s daughters said they deeply cherish their mother’s long life, describing it as a blessing.
Said Mrs Chirara: “We feel blessed to have her around. She is a very hardworking and enterprising woman. If she is not baking cakes and other confectionary products, she will be making batik.
“We are always learning from her every day. Other women in the community are also tapping into her wisdom and drawing inspiration from her. She leads a very simple life, but one worth emulating.
“Gogo Zisengwe makes good use of her time and if she is not occupied, she finds means to help others. She also gets heavily involved in God’s work at St John’s United Methodist Church in Chikanga.
“I have first hand experience of how my mother has immensely benefited from the lifestyle she leads.
“Many years ago she was diagnosed with arthritis and a medical practitioner advised her to do regular exercises. After taking heed of that, she completely recovered,” said Mrs Chirara.