Senior Gamers compete for fun, medals & memories
Medal-winning victories are the icing on the cake of an Olympic year, inspiring to those of us who breathlessly watch.
But to people who thrill to the competition, watching is not enough … they stand ready to take their place in the Senior Games.
Retired IBM-er Dick Claxon, on the board of Wake County Senior Games, oversees publicity and sponsorships for the local games.
“People think seniors sit around and don’t do anything,” said Claxon.
Not true: More than 500 seniors participated in the Wake County Senior Games last year.
Held each April, the Wake games feature more than 30 competitive events for those ages 55 and older, held at area senior and community centers, parks and more. Local coordinator for the games is Jody Jameson, Cary Senior Center supervisor.
The Wake County Senior Games serve as a qualifier for the North Carolina Senior Games, which will be held in September. The state games are celebrating their 30th year in 2014.
State winners go on to represent North Carolina at the National Senior Games, held biannually and set to take place in Minneapolis in 2015.
Now, meet a few of our local Senior Games competitors. Athletes and artists, they represent all those who bring home medals, memories and the pride of accomplishment.
“We used to say Senior Games were a best-kept secret,” Claxon said, “but we’re changing that.”
55: Minimum age to compete in Wake County Senior Games
#5 :Rank of Raleigh-Cary metro among fastest-growing retirement places in U.S., NerdWallet, 2014
Pickle-what? Pickleball is named for Pickles the dog, pet of game founder Joel Pritchard
Silver Follies: Arts division of the Senior Games
5 F’s of Senior Games: Fitness, Fellowship, Fun, Family, Friends
Events: Pickleball, basketball
President: Wake County Senior Games board
Medals: 20-plus, from local-and state-level games
Hobbies: Knitting socks, gardening, reading historical fiction
Retired as: School nurse consultant, N.C. Department of Public Health
At age 55, Marilyn Asay spent seven days on a bicycle, touring the state of Iowa. Later, she returned to the sport of her youth, basketball, and has taken to the court with the Scrappy Swishers 70-plus team, playing halftime exhibitions at N.C. State and UNC women’s basketball games.
“I’m a high achiever, always looking for something new to learn and do,” Asay said. “Basketball has been an opportunity to connect with my teenage grandsons, as a ball player. We go to each other’s games!”
Now age 73 and a veteran Senior Games competitor, Asay was introduced to her latest sport, pickleball, in a demonstration at the 2007 National Senior Games.
A combination of sports, pickleball employs a badminton-size court, 34-inch-high net, paddles smaller than tennis rackets but larger than pingpong paddles, and Wiffle ball-type balls that travel at one-third the speed of a tennis ball. Serves are underhand.
One of the nation’s fastest-growing sports, pickleball this year became an official N.C. Senior Games event.
“Cary was a leader in pickleball,” Asay said. “For developing skills and making new friends, it’s been great, and I like the co-ed aspect.”
Seniors can take advantage of opportunities to play with more advanced players, and train through clinics and videos. Other Wake County towns, including Garner, are adding pickleball to their rosters.
“I really value fitness and fun,” Asay said. “This is a great mental stimulus, and the social and emotional contact I get through participation in the Senior Games, I wouldn’t give up. It feeds my soul.”
Events: Race walking, basketball, golf, billiards
Medals: Hundreds, from local, state and national level games
Hobbies: Yard work, reading nonfiction, church volunteer
Retired from: Real estate acquisitions & leasing for State of N.C. Property Office
Ken Long is a champion of champions at the Senior Games, competing for more than 30 years at the local level, and competing at the state level throughout the N.C. Senior Games’ 30-year existence.
He’s also taken part in numerous National Senior Games held across the U.S., and played on the basketball team which won the Games’ 1995 national championship.
At age 86, Long has earned hundreds of medals, including five golds, and has competed in events ranging from basketball to billiards.
He currently competes in the 85-89 age group, and hopes to represent North Carolina in the National Senior Games once again in 2015, in Minneapolis.
Among his competitive successes is the race walking event. Long says technique is crucial in an event in which the rules demand one foot on the ground at all times.
“The whole thing is based on efficiency of motion,” he said. “You have to develop a fluidity within the rules of race walking. You actually go faster with a shorter stride.
“You’ve seen the Olympians, that wiggly motion they have? They are super-tuned athletes, trying to get every bit of speed,” he said.
Long enjoys winning but says the Senior Games offer much more.
“Although the satisfaction of winning is great, it is the actual experience of competing at this age in these local, state and national games that I am grateful for,” Long said. “Meeting my old buddies from way back and making new friends is extremely satisfying. Senior Games’ commitment each year continues to be a blessing.”
Events: Art and G Squad dance troupe, in Senior Games’ arts division, Silver Follies
Medals: Lost count!
Member: Wake County Senior Games board
Current project: Working on her Ph.D. in psychology
Retired as: Detective, Chicago Police Department
Patricia Hill has competed in the senior games as a performing artist, earning gold medals with her troupe-mates as the “G Squad” hip-hop dance group, based at the Garner Senior Center. The group dances to current hits by the likes of artists Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas.
The arts division of the Senior Games, the Silver Follies feature numerous events in the categories of performance, visual and literary arts, including the “heritage arts” of needlework and woodworking.
“Some people have physical limitations that keep them from athletics,” said Hill, age 63. “With the arts section, a lot more people can be involved. To me, what’s important is that mental stimulus.”
Qualifying for the Wake County Senior Games is easy, she says: Be at least 55 years old, and reside in Wake County.
Then, fill out the games application and pay $15 to sign up for as many as four events; pay $1 per event after that. Participants receive notification of the locations and facilities hosting their events.
Hill sat out this year’s Senior Games, but for good reason: She’s been busy finalizing her Ph.D. in psychology. Instead she’s chosen to serve on the Wake County Senior Games board.
“After participating in the senior games since 2009, the opportunity to see how it’s put together was important to me,” she said. “It gives me a better idea of the work and venues involved.
“There’s much more to it than sports!”
Wake County Senior Games