For nearly 30 years senior citizens in Mecklenburg County have been gathering each spring to compete in the Senior Games, hosted by Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation. While winning the gold medal is definitely the icing on the cake, the real purpose of the Games is to encourage seniors to renew old skills, learn new ones, stay active, build confidence, and make new friends.
“People are living longer, often well into their 80’s and 90’s,” said Trena Palmer, Recreation Coordinator for Senior Services at Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation. “Today’s seniors are very active. They fill their lives with things they love to do. Senior Games allows them to compete, stay fit and try new things. It allows them to remain active longer.”
This year over 250 seniors, ages 50 – 94, competed locally. The Games include both Silver Arts and Athletics. Silver Arts include photography, drama, writing, singing and dance; and yes, there’s basket weaving, quilting, and woodworking, too. The Athletics has all the sports you’d expect, like basketball, tennis, swimming and softball; as well as archery, corn hole, shuffleboard, and bowling.
Gold and Silver award winners qualify for the State Senior Games. Medal winners there go on to compete in the National Senior Games in Birmingham, Alabama.
Cindy Ballaro, age 56, and Paul Huff, age 71, competed in the Small Group Music category of the Silver Arts. They formed the singing group, “In-A-Chord,” 2 1/2 years ago and travel around performing at senior centers and other community events. This was their first year competing in the Senior Games and they won Gold in their category as well as Best in Show. They performed an original song written by Huff titled, “Down to the River.” They’ll represent Mecklenburg County in the State Senior Games this September.
“It was a fun experience,” said Huff. “I think seniors are the largest growing population. We are beginning to understand that the worst thing we can do is sit on our butts and do nothing.”
Seniors are looking for ways to have fun and do something meaningful, not just pass the time, added Huff.
“There are so many opportunities now to get involved and find meaning and meet cool people. The Senior Games was so much fun. Everyone was so gracious and encouraging whether they won or not. There was just a great camaraderie among everyone.”
Huff suffers from spinal stenosis and has a very difficult time standing and walking for long periods of time. “But when I am singing my pain goes away,” he said. “It’s amazing… music has so much power.”
“I encourage people to get involved in the Senior Games,” added Huff’s singing partner, Ballaro. “It’s a lot of fun and very easy to do.”
“I remember this one woman who danced — she must have been in her 80’s or 90’s — She was amazing! You are just never too old to get involved.”
Joan Wayne is 92 years old and one of the oldest competitors from Mecklenburg County. Wayne moved from England to Charlotte in the 1960’s and began volunteering at the Johnston YMCA where she found her love of swimming. She began competing in the Senior Games in the mid 1980’s and has been to nearly every National Senior Games since.
“I love swimming,” said Wayne, “I also love traveling with my group of friends to the Nationals. We had a really large group at one point and we would all travel together. We would meet people from all over the country too. It was so much fun.”
Wayne says she almost didn’t compete this year, but her son convinced her to do so. Good thing, too. She swam away with a lot of hardware at the Games, winning gold medals in the 100 meter breast stroke, 200 meter breast stroke, and 100 meter individual medley.
Whether you’re an athlete or an artist, a competitor or a volunteer, we hope you are inspired to be involved in the 2018 Senior Games. The Senior Games are held all over Mecklenburg County at senior centers, country clubs, billiard halls, YWCA’s, The Motor Speedway, parks and community recreation centers. Each year Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation staff the Games with the help of over 75 volunteers. For more information about participating or volunteering in the 2018 games call 980-314-1328 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.