Light The Torch

Besides the many physical rewards of participation, the games also offer a social network for seniors. Very often athletes develop long-lasting relationships within their town or even across the county. Partners, teams and clubs are developed regularly from the Senior Games. I have often heard from athletes that one of the reasons they participate is to reconnect with competitors and friends from previous years. I have found that participants tend to spend more time before and after the events socializing than actually engaging in the activities.

Lastly, the games improve the mental well-being of the athletes. Deanna Clifford, with the Ohio Senior Olympics, says that “competing gives athletes something to strive for that keeps them physically and mentally active.” In some respects, the games could be called the complete workout for seniors: mind, body and spirit. Truly these contests can be and are so much more than an athletic event.

The benefits are not to be had by seniors alone. By committing time, money and energy to the games, organizations can expect to see a return on their investment. Today’s seniors are more active than they have ever been and additionally have more discretionary money to spend on recreational endeavors. Senior Games can be a stepping stone by which an organization can encourage more senior athletic activities, and generate additional revenue.

Unlike the school-age demographic, seniors have no real time constraints on when they can or cannot participate in an activity. Also, seniors are well-equipped, knowledgeable and more than eager to volunteer their services and time. They are great at reducing the overhead of running a program, and consequently add instant credibility to the activity.

Another item to consider is the economic impact an event like Senior Games has on a community. The better supported, operated and attended the events are, the more the money is pumped into a city or county. Many times seniors travel from city to city and state to state to participate in the games. These same seniors need places to stay and food to eat, at times making a considerable contribution to the local economy.

Beyond The Athletes

What captivates the public and draws people to Senior Games are the intangible stories beyond the races and medals, such as one I witnessed first-hand. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, I started checking in participants for a 5K run. Before the race began, a familiar face in the crowd said hello. I say familiar, for this woman and her husband had already participated in nearly every event they could physically enter. If one did not enter an event he or she would cheer and support the other.

Margaret seemed especially anxious as she prepared for the race. Her support and cheering section was strangely absent, and when I inquired, it was as if a little girl stood in front of me, waiting to describe all the toys she was to receive for Christmas. She explained that her husband was to arrive shortly with her mother. After her father died, her mother had not been out of the house for over four years. After several months of their encouragement and planning, her mother was coming out of a self-induced exile. Coming to see her daughter compete broke the shackles. As Margaret’s tears fell, it was quite apparent this was more than a race. It was of no consequence that Margret raced without competition in her age group or that the event consisted of only 18 participants.

Her mother beamed as she watched her child cross the line and receive a medal. This is but one example of the enormous value–beyond dollars and cents–that Senior Games has for our communities.

Overcoming Obstacles

What are the biggest challenges facing Senior Games? Zeug says there are two:

Finding the resources to expand programs to reach the millions of seniors who are not now physically active.

Developing a truly sustainable nationwide program that encourages seniors to get involved and stay involved in physical activity.

A third challenge facing Senior Games comes from the numerous budgetary issues facing municipalities. When departments are asked to cut from an already tight budget, many times programs like Senior Games are considered. A large amount of time, volunteers and staff are needed to operate this type of event safely and efficiently.

When I recently sat down with Stephen Rodriguez of the Florida Sports Foundation, current organizers of the Florida State Senior Games, he had the same sentiment: “Since the majority of the Local Senior Games in Florida are operated by parks and recreation departments, our most immediate challenge is facing us right now.

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