Thousands gear up for record-breaking BC Senior Games
by Irene Butler
The city of Richmond will pulsate with grey power from September 16-19th. Thirty-eight hundred 55+ aged participants have registered, making it the largest sports event the city of Richmond has hosted and the largest BC Seniors Games since they began in 1988. The Games will be supported by thousands of event volunteers and community groups working together.
There is no entry fee for spectators coming out to see the games, which will include 29 sports, such as: soccer, track & field, ice-skating, horseshoes, cribbage, golf, pickleball….pickleball? Never having heard of this sport, I had Nettie & Ralph Jonker, Co-Chairs for this event, bring me up to speed. The odd name was coined from a natural ball-chaser Pickles, the dog of one of three Seattle area men who created the game. “It is a cross between ping pong, tennis, and badminton, and is played on a badminton court,” said Nettie, “using hard paddles and a perforated plastic ball.”
Joanne Francis, Communications Chair mentioned floor curling and carpet bowling as sports that are rapidly gaining popularity and will be represented at the Games. Square Dance Chair, Helge Jacobsen reported for the first time this year Square Dancing will be in the competition category of the Senior Games, but the doe-see-doe-ers will also continue with their non-competitive demonstrations as in previous Games.
A sampling of prowess to watch for is Gwen McFarlan (Richmond), who this May at age 75 broke the world record for the Women’s 75-79 category in the 42.2km Vancouver marathon, clocking in at 3hrs/57min/30 sec. Rick Whiting (who has won numerous marathons himself) is now at age 71 her “junior” coach. He says, “Gwen started running in her 50’s and is running better now than 10 years ago.” Gwen will be in the Richmond Games 1500m, 5000m and 10km Road Race.
When I asked at the Games office for the name of a person who had participated in many of the annual Senior Games with a trail of medals, 92-year-old Olga Walker (Smithers) was flagged. “I’ve only ever missed three Seniors Games and last year in Prince George I won the Discus in the 90+ category,” Olga said in an interview. She added that over the years she won most of her more than two dozen medals in Discus, Javelin and Power Walk, but her most unusual win was after being asked at the last minute to participate in, and coming in as second runner in the 4×100 relay in the Women’s 80+ category in Abbotsford in 2006. Watch for Olga in the 2,000m Optional Power Walk and in the Discus this year.
Then there’s 88-year-old Dennis Scorah who will cycle in the Men’s 80+ Road Race; Mickey Hayashi, aged 93, will tee-off in the Golf Competition; 76-year-old Peter Blokker‘s blades will zing in the Men’s 55+ Speed Skating event; and Norma Spencer who has already won for being the “richest in Birthday’s” at age 95, will chalk up her cue for the Women’s 75+Singles in Snooker. The list could go on for each and every participant.
The objective of the Games are to promote activity in both body and mind among BC seniors, and being that Richmond was proclaimed “Canada’s longest living city” with an average life span of 83 years, it’s the perfect location to set this year’s friendly competition in motion. “The games highlight the athletic and healthy nature of Richmond,” affirms Promotions Director Aiman El-Ramly. “The value of participation is a key motivator for us hosting the games and why so many of us volunteer our time to make this great event happen.” He also mentioned, “There is still a big need for volunteers and we are encouraging people to come help out.”
And it certainly takes a formidable volunteer task force to bring the games to fruition. The BC Seniors Games Society, consisting of an Executive Committee, 12 Zone directors, and 12 Zone Committees is the backbone organization responsible for organizing and registration for the Games. The Society works in conjunction with the community efforts of a different host city in BC each year. The 22nd annual undertaking of the Society has been in the planning stage for Richmond since the bid was won 2 years ago, and with intensity for the past year involving a community volunteer board, sports associations, and multi-cultural organizations.
Events leading up to the games have taken place over the past few months. On April 9th the official flag raising ceremony and office opening for the Richmond Games was held. On June 7th the Steveston Rotary Club sponsored the Seniors Games Torch Relay. Forty senior athletes carried the torch 57 km around the city, starting at the stunning new Richmond Olympic Oval, with brief stops at eight community centres, and finishing up at the Minoru Seniors Centre.
Anticipation is mounting to the ringing out of “Let the Games Begin!” The Opening Ceremonies will be held in the Olympic Oval on Wednesday, September 16 at 7 pm. Barbara Norman, Ceremonies Director, excitedly filled me in on the pomp and ceremony of the Legion Colour Guard and Pipe Band that will lead in the procession of athletes representing the various zones across BC, followed by welcome speeches, Richmond Singers choral selections, and the lighting of the torch. The closing ceremony on Saturday, September 19 at 4 pm also in the Oval promises a finale of fine entertainment.
Sixteen of the twenty-nine events will be held in the City Centre, where the Oval and Minoru’s indoor and outdoor facilities are located, lending a “village” atmosphere to the Richmond Games. So pick your favourite sports and fill the stands for some great fun and cheer on the inspiring athletic performances of our spirited BC seniors.
For more information, visit BC Seniors Games 2009
About the Author Irene Butler is a freelance writer based in Richmond. She and her photographer husband Rick have teamed up in retirement to visit 63 countries to date. Their inspiring video highlights of the Senior Games can be viewed at Global Trekkers