National Senior Games Proves It’s Never Too Late to Get in the Games
Photo Credit: Benjamin Morris, NSGA
By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor
When the 2017 National Senior Games officially get underway in Birmingham, Ala., June 2-15, athletes and spectators alike will witness an amazing moment in history as eight people who have competed in all the games since 1987 will return to participate in the 30th anniversary of the biennial event.
Known as the Great Eight, they range in age from 85 to 94 and many of them became competitive athletes after the age of 55, the minimum age required when the games were established in St. Louis, Mo.
“To have all eight participating for the thirtieth year is phenomenal,” said Marc Riker, CEO of the National Senior Games Association (NSGA), based in Baton Rouge, La., a non-profit multi-sport council member of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). “We’re very excited about the games and the 30th anniversary. We will be reliving and recognizing this amazing moment in history in the Great Eight.”
The 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana is designed to promote healthy lifestyles for adults through education, fitness and sport. Riker said the social, mental and physical aspects of athletic competition are what participation in the games is all about.
“A person participates in a bowling event and they socialize with fans and other athletes and they have other experiences beyond bowling. It’s a snowball effect. It’s about fitness, fun and fellowship; being your personal best for life,” he said. “Self-motivation is a key component.”
The motivation to compete is evidenced in the more than 10,400 athletes who qualified during multi-sport competitions in the 53 member games across the U.S. and Canada. Those athletes will compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in 19 categories on a national stage, vying for their personal best in the world’s largest multi-sport qualified competition event for men and women 50 and over.
“We have an exciting situation here in Baton Rouge with a woman who is 101 who is going to compete this year in Birmingham,” Riker said. “We wanted to take her to lunch but her life is so full of things, we had to work to schedule with her. She had things to do in her garden. She was training for her event and she had social engagements and other things on her plate. She has the drive to do all of it, too.”
The 101-year-old athlete, an avid biker for many years, entered her first competitive cycling event at 80. She will compete in track and field at this year’s games, running both the 50- and 100-meter sprints. “She will achieve her personal best because no one of her age has ever competed in that event,” he said.
The NSGA hopes to spread the word about health and wellness and encourage others to become more active regardless of when they start or how old they might be. “Promoting health and wellness for our aging adults through sports, fitness and education is our mission,” Riker said. “Fun, fellowship and fitness is key, and having your physical health is so crucial to that component.”
“These are the people everyone should aspire to emulate,” said Del Moon, media and communications director with NSGA. “When people come to these games, they see how much fun people are having and they see the benefits of fitness. That’s where our partner, Humana, comes in. The first question, ‘What does an insurance company have to do with these games?’ is often asked but Humana’s mission aligns 100 percent with our mission. Both organizations are committed to health and wellness through education, fitness and sport. We want people to live their best life.”
As a 10-year sponsor of the National Senior Games, Humana will join others in the Village Health and Welfare Expo at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center (BJCC), offering tai chi demonstrations and sharing information about living a healthy lifestyle.
In addition to the expo, the two-week event will utilize more than a dozen venues and facilities across the Birmingham area, including the Birmingham CrossPlex for swimming and volleyball; Samford University’s track and tennis facilities; two Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses; the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium for archery and a race walk; and Birmingham-Southern College’s tennis facilities. The games will also use streets through downtown Birmingham for road races, and the opening ceremonies and lighting of the torch will be held in the Uptown Entertainment District with remarks by Birmingham Mayor William Bell.
“Birmingham has world-class facilities and they are ready, willing and capable of handling these games,” Moon said.
Riker agreed. “Facility-wise, the location of the games is crucial with 19 different events. The quality of the venues and facilities, and having a team on hand to help manage everything from safety, medical and course design, and a community that is willing to make that all happen seamlessly is a key piece of the pie.”
Riker said David Galbaugh, vice president of sports sales and marketing with the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Knight Eady, a Birmingham-based sports marketing and event management company, have been crucial in developing the 2017 games.
“Birmingham has a lot to offer and we are excited to have the National Senior Games here,” Galbaugh said. “With an economic impact of $30 million with about 10,500 athletes and 25,000 people coming to town to support the athletes and watch the games in Birmingham in the world’s largest multi-sport event is huge for us and we are really excited. They are a great group and we are looking forward to showing them all that Birmingham has to offer.”
Knight Eady CEO David Knight said his firm is creating awareness of the senior games through marketing and public relations campaigns, and leading the volunteer recruitment of several thousand people to assist during the two-week event.
“This event is certainly an exciting thing for Birmingham with more than 10,000 athletes participating. We are fortunate to be a part of this,” Knight said. “It’s a huge thing for the city, the hotels, restaurants and entertainment. Mayor Bell was the first registered volunteer for the event. It is a grassroots effort that builds one by one.”
Albuquerque, N.M., will host the 2019 National Senior Games with dates to be announced following this year’s event in Birmingham. In announcing next year’s event, the City of Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said, “Sports tourism is an incredible opportunity for Albuquerque. This is why we have been intentional in the investments we have made to make Albuquerque a perfect destination for this prestigious event.”
The City of Albuquerque partnered with Visit Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico to submit an RFP to host the games.
“When we made our visit to Albuquerque, the biggest thing that impressed us was that everyone shared a passion for seniors and providing services for their elder citizens,” Riker said when making the announcement.
The state also provides support for the New Mexico Senior Olympics, and the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department made it possible for 28 local games in more than 130 communities to take place, bringing more athletes into qualifying events, which resulted in a large contingent of athletes competing in this year’s senior games.
To learn more about the National Senior Games, go to www.nsga.com.