Thunderous applause echoed through the Olympic Oval as torch bearer Norma Spencer, the oldest participant at 95, lit the official Games Flame. This gala Opening Ceremony for the September 16th to 19th Richmond 2009 BC Seniors Games pulsated with “grey power” as athletes and spectators absorbed well-wishes of dignitaries and were wowed by choral singers.
Norma says her secret to longevity is to “stay active and have fun.” My husband Rick and I saw firsthand that this credence fit the over 3,800 fifty-five-plus participating athletes as we moved among the many venues of the 29 sports represented at the Games.
The BC Seniors Games, hosted by a different city each year since 1988, are designed to fit a vast range of skills. Many participants in sports such as swimming, track & field and table tennis, train year-round to maintain their physical proficiency, travelling to world competitions as well. Other events, like whist and cribbage tournaments, combine social engagement and sharply honed games strategies. The rapidly growing popularity of floor curling and carpet bowling was evident from the sizeable number of teams entered in competition.
A new sport to us was “Pickleball”. As participants whacked a perforated plastic ball with a hard paddle across a net, we learn this sport played on a badminton court is a cross between ping pong, tennis and badminton. The odd name was coined from a natural ball chaser Pickles, the dog of one of three Seattle area men who created the game.
At the Richmond Games, not only were previous BC Games records broken, but Canadian records were topped as well! In exhilaration we watched 75 year-old Gwen McFarlan of Richmond cross the finish line of the 10 kilometre road race, clocking in at 52min 33sec, beating the Canadian record in the Women’s 75-79 age category (a mere 14 seconds short of the world record). Gwen also displayed prowess in the 5000 metre race setting another Canadian record, and exceeded her personal best in the 1500 metre.
Seventy-six year old Peter Blokker from Vernon showed great form speed skating his way to first place in the Men’s 70+ 500 metre and the 70+1000 metre categories. Skating in many forms has always been a part of Peter’s life, from long-distance skating on natural ice in the Netherlands, to belonging to speed skating clubs in Canada since the mid-70’s, travelling to competitions and coaching youth locally.
The tenacity of some participants was awe-inspiring. Mae Turek, a 77 year-old Vancouverite came away with 6 medals in the Women’s 75-79 age group: Gold for Track & Field 800 metre and Shot Put, Silver for Javelin and Discus, and Bronze for Hammer Throw and Weight Throw. Mae has had both hips replaced.
There were some major waves happening at Riverport Watermania. Grant Hall (74), Emilio Clozza (85), Len Coverdale (89), and Steve Wallace (61) won the Gold in the 300 years and over (a total of their ages) Men’s 4x25m Freestyle Relay. Len, the oldest team member, thinks nothing of diving into a sport later in life. “I was an avid swimmer as a boy, but gave it up while raising a family and working, only taking it up again in 2000 at the age of 80,” Len has had both knees replaced, while Emilio’s left leg is prosthesis equipped - yet another of many inspiring stories.
Family and friends that came out to cheer on these flinty seniors competing in such an array of sports were overwhelmed with pride and joy. One teenage girl gleefully announced, “I’m not sure if I could keep up with Grandma.”
The phenomenal amount of dedication, effort and sponsor dollars that brought these games to fruition was apparent. The BC Games Society collaborated with the Richmond BC Games Committee, sports associations and multi-cultural organizations; the volunteer count reaching 1300.
Sentiments expressed at the Closing Ceremony were an excellent summation. Mayor Malcolm Brodie made reference to the Games purpose of “shared laughter and friendly competition.” John Yap MLA felt “it’s not about being on the podium, it’s about participating.” Richmond Games President Jim Lamond commented, “great games are made by great athletes, volunteers and staff and these were great Games.”
Lastly the BC Seniors Games flag was passed to Moe McKendrick, president of the 2010 Games to be hosted by Comox Valley/Campbell River - where seniors will once again gather to unfurl the mighty power of age!
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