No squashing spirit of 90-year-old coach

GOING STRONG: Angela Difford, 90, at a squash coaching session at the ETC courts
GOING STRONG: Angela Difford, 90, at a squash coaching session at the ETC courts

It is often said that age is nothing but a number, but in the case of Angela Difford, who celebrated her 90th birthday yesterday, that has become her motto in life.

While most people spend their birthdays celebrating with their families and friends, Difford coached Isaac Booi Primary School pupils in squash.

Age is as little a deterrent to her as physical challenges, for despite dealing with an injury that culminated in a major knee replacement operation, Difford still manages to play squash.

She said her secret to a long and active life was exercise and doing what she loved. “When you reach the age of retirement you must not do nothing – instead invest your time in what you love.”

Difford was first introduced to squash during World War 2 when the Royal Air Force built squash courts in South Africa to accommodate their pupil pilots.

As a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force physical training instructor, she was introduced to the game.

In the early 1980s, Difford was approached by Squash SA to start grassroots squash in Port Elizabeth, especially in the townships, and so the EP Squash Development Programme was born.

She also heads the Eastern Province Squash Union.

She was able to persuade the Eastcape Training Centre (ETC) to allow regular weekly use of its courts by pupils during school terms.

These schools have now progressed to entering teams in the EP schools leagues.

Difford tries to organise shoes and rackets for the young players where necessary.

Xoliswa Mnotoza, 52, a teacher at Isaac Booi Primary in Zwide, who has been working with her since 1993, said: “I brought my team to Angela for her to assist the pupils. Since than she has been like a parent to the teachers as well as the students. I sometimes wish we could rewind time so she could be young again and help us for many more years.”

She has also been active in getting the government to build more squash facilities in townships.

Difford is as supportive to her own children. “She is always there for us,” daughter Trish Difford says.

-Siphiwokuhle Penze

Inspire Mandela Bay

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