Senior muscle power proves mighty

October 13, 2009

2009 BC Senior Games Athletes break records and boost hearts

by Irene Butler

SkatingAthletes and dignitaries were piped into the Olympic Oval by the Legion Colour Guard and Bagpipers. At this gala ceremony to open the September 16th to 19th 2009, Richmond BC Seniors Games well-wishers and singers took to the stage. A torch relayed around the Oval culminated in the hands of 95-year-old Norma Spencer, the oldest participating athlete. Barely coming to mid-chest level of her escort MLA Rob Howard, Norma with the torch held high, lit the cauldron to start the Games.

Early the next morning, Norma was at the snooker table scrutinizing every shot and by day’s end came away with the Gold Medal in the Womens 75+ category. Norma caulked her first a cue at age 65. “I was a volunteer making sandwiches at a snooker tournament and the players called me over to make a few shots”, she says. “I was hooked, but did not take the game seriously until 2000.” Her ‘serious” mode racked-up the following BC Seniors Games Snooker wins: Gold in 2000, Silver in 2001, 2002, 2003, Bronze in 2004, 2005, 2006, Gold in 2007 (in 2008 Norma missed the Games).

Norma says her secret to longevity is to “stay active and have fun”. This credence fit the rest of over 3,800 participating athletes representing 29 different sports at the Games.

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 grand total of volunteers numbering over 1300.

These Games are designed to fit a vast range of skills. Many participants, in swimming, track & field and table tennis for example, train year-round to maintain their physical proficiency and travel to world competitions. Other events, like whist and cribbage tournaments, combine social engagement and sharply-honed games strategies.

During the Richmond Games, not only previous BC Games records were broken, but Canadian records were topped as well. An exhilarating sight was 75 year-old Gwen McFarlan of Richmond cross the finish line of the 10 kilometre road race, clocking in at 52:33, 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.

Some participants demonstrated enviable determination. Mae Turek (77) of Vancouver 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 also 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 4×25m Freestyle Relay. Len, the oldest team member, thinks nothing of beginning a new sport later in life. “I was an avid swimmer as a boy”, he says. “but I gave it up while raising a family and working, only taking the sport 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 during the Games.

Family and friends that came out to cheer on the flinty seniors competing in such an array of sports were overwhelmed with great pride and joy. One teenaged girl gleefully announced, “I’m not sure if I could keep up with Grandma.”

Sentiments expressed at the closing ceremonies were an excellent summation. Mayor Malcolm Brodie made reference to the Games purpose of “shared laughter and fine competition”; MLA John Yap felt “it’s not about being on the podium, it’s about participating”. Richmond Games President Jim Lamond addressed the crowd saying, “great games are made by great athletes, volunteers and staff and these were great Games”.

Young singers stirred emotion with their rendition of “Go the distance”. 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 in friendly competition and grandiosely unfurl the power of age.

For Complete Games Results go to: BC Seniors Games

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

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