Norma Spencer, as the oldest participant in the 2009 Richmond BC Seniors Games, was bestowed the honour of torchbearer to light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony in the Olympic Oval. The Games, which took place in September, were the largest sports event ever held in the city, drawing over 3,800 athletes participating in 29 sports.
To the strains of Chariots of Fire and in the company of MLA Rob Howard, Norma walked across the stage area of the crowded arena with the torch in one hand and a cane in the other. She appeared to be fragile, although her smiling eyes held a high-spirited twinkle.
This 95-year-old great-grandma snooker player extraordinaire looked anything but frail at the tournament the next morning. Her cane hung idly on the back of a chair. Norma circled the table scrutinizing each shot, sinking ball after ball until she won gold in the Women’s 75+ age category.
“I only started [playing] at age of 65,” she says. “I was a volunteer making sandwiches at a snooker match in a seniors centre. Some of the players called me over to try out a few shots. I was hooked, but never took the game seriously until 2000.”
Since Norma became “serious” about playing snooker, she’s racked up a number of Seniors Games wins. These include: Gold in Kelowna 2000, Silver in Surrey 2001, Silver in Prince George 2002, Silver in Chilliwack 2003, Bronze in Penticton 2004, Bronze in Cowichan 2005, Bronze in Abbotsford 2006, Gold in Nanaimo 2007, (she missed the Games in Prince George in 2008) and Gold at this year’s Games.
Norma was always sports minded. Long before entering snooker tournaments, one of her favourite excursions was as a volunteer and spectator at the BC Seniors Games, since their inception in 1988.
Born and raised on a farm near the hamlet of Crane Valley, Saskatchewan, physical activity and sports were a part of everyday life. Norma and her brother walked or rode horseback to a school either two-and-a-half miles [4 km] or four miles [6.4 km] away (depending on which school the lone teacher, covering an extensive rural area, was stationed at). During her school years, she zeroed in on softball, and some of her most memorable times were travelling to challenge other girl’s teams in the surrounding villages and towns.
In her late teens, while kicking her heels up at a country dance, she met a suave, good-looking fellow named Henry Spencer from the big town of Dunkirk (at least big compared to Crane Valley). She later exchanged vows with Henry in the living room of the same house where she was born and raised. The newlyweds moved to Expanse, a town at the end of the CPR line where Henry worked in the salt mine (now a ghost town with a commemorative plaque attached to a sizable rock, and the shell of the old post office and school).
When their two prairie-born sons were still preschoolers the Spencers moved to North Vancouver, where Henry first worked at the shipyards, and later became a welder, while Norma added to the family income as a post office/drug store clerk. Her sports of choice during this time were bowling and swimming. They spent holidays camping, boating and fishing. After Henry retired in 1974, the couple fished for salmon off their 30-foot [9.1 m] boat in the Pacific, and spun around Canada and the U.S. in their truck camper. In 1991, they moved to Burnaby, where Norma still lives; her soulmate Henry passed on in 1999.
Lawrence, Norma’s eldest son (aged 73) and his wife Barbara were at the snooker tournament cheering Mom on. They gave Norma two grandchildren, who in turn blessed Norma with five great-grandchildren. When her son Gary (70) married Fern, her three children from a previous marriage were lovingly added to Norma’s fold.
Great-Grandma Norma believes keeping active and having fun are keys to longevity. She hops a Handy-Dart van en route to the Dogwood Pavilion Senior Centre in Coquitlam twice a week to keep her snooker game fine-tuned. She swims most mornings in the pool of her apartment complex. “My future plans are to keep busy and enjoy life with my family and friends, and,” she gleefully adds, “win more snooker tournaments.”
To read more about the Senior Games, visit www.seniorlivingmag.com/bc-seniors-games-2009
NOVEMBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND
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