Teacher Follows Student to Racewalking Gold in National Senior Games
Gonzales Wins 1500 Meter Event for Third Time in a Row
Donna Gonzales’ race walking career is a storybook, even if the story didn’t begin until she was past 50 years old.
She has been competing in the National Senior Games since traveling from Jackson, Mississippi to Orlando for The Games in 1999, where she earned two silver medals in her first attempt. Ten years later, Gonzales, now 72, was inducted into the Mississippi Senior Olympics Hall of Fame.
Gonzales had four gold medals to her name coming into the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana.. She added a fifth on Tuesday after winning the 1500 meter race walk at O’Shaughnessy Stadium at St. Thomas University. She hopes-and expects- to add a sixth in the 5000 meter race walk today.
“I may get slower as I get older,” Gonzales said. “However, this year I was two seconds faster than 2013, when I was two years younger.”
Gonzales didn’t know anything about the sport until nearly twenty years ago, when she met a young race walker named Barbara Duplichain when Gonzales’ oldest daughter was competing in a bodybuilding contest. She took the elder novice under her wing and taught Gonzales how to race walk and “they’ve been best buds ever since,” said Gonzales, adding with her Southern drawl, “Even though I could be her Mama.”
“She picked it up instantly,” Duplichain said of Gonzales’ race walking. “She was like a natural to it.” Once Gonzales started bringing home medals, her mentor couldn’t wait to become a senior athlete herself, and copied her older friend’s feat by taking home two silver medals in her first National Senior Games in 2013. And yesterday, she matched Gonzales by winning her 55-59 division 1500 race.
At 5’1” and with short legs, Gonzales doesn't have the ideal physique for race walking. But a lifetime of athleticism resulted in Gonzales being ready for anything. A high school gymnast and cheerleader, Gonzales continued to pursue athletic activities into adulthood, including teaching fitness and Middle Eastern dance at the YMCA. For five years she had an aerobics segment on a television morning show in Jackson, Mississippi.
Gonzales’ training regimen involves race walking four miles on dead end roads near her countryside Mississippi house at least three times a week, in addition to working out daily. She plans to take the short jog to Birmingham, Alabama for The Games in 2017 Games to pick up two more gold medals. Even if the gregarious blonde race walker doesn’t win first place, however, she will be grateful that her body is able to race walk.
The 2015 NSGA Personal Best athlete sends a message to her future competition: “If you can beat me fair, I don’t mind being beat.”
Basketball is a Constant Force in Life for Former Globetrotter
For many athletes, the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana are a way to pick up a beloved sport they put aside during adult years. Some athletes never stopped doing what they loved.
Tony “Bones” Davis, 80, of San Francisco, California, doesn’t need The Games to prove his prowess on the court. Davis played and entertained large audiences as a member of the famed Harlem Globetrotters from in 1952 and 1953. He was a ninth-round draft pick for the New York Knicks, but went to the University of Hawaii instead to gain post-Globetrotters game experience.
At Hawaii, his dedication to basketball carried over from the court to the classroom. He wrote his graduation thesis on how to improve the conditions of basketball. “I started playing basketball when I was four years and I just never quit,” Davis said of his basketball career.
At a towering 6’10”, you might say Davis is a noticeable figure on the senior court, where he has enjoyed success helping his teams win medals during his ten years in The Games, most recently sharing the bronze medal with the Makoa team in Cleveland in 2013. Now centering for the 80+ Hard Faces this year, he said he would be happy simply to get a medal.
Hammer Throw a True Test of Strength
Power, strength, and determination helped athletes push through their hammer throws Tuesday at the University of St. Thomas. In 90-degree-plus temperatures, men and women swung the hammer around, sometimes releasing too early and sometimes at that beautiful, just-right moment. After the first round of 3 throws for each competitor, the top athletes moved onto the finals for three more throws.
Many athletes don't begin hammer throwing until a later age, and get their start after competing in shot put. Hammer throw requires a lot of technique as well as strength. "It's a complicated event and as you get older the balance can become an issue," said 62-year-old Tennessean John Mackersie.
On a hot Tuesday at O’Shaughnessy Stadium, the balance was pretty good for him. In the men's age division 60-64, all of the athletes with throws above 29.41 meters advanced to the finals, which were won by Mackersie with a throw of 40.99.
"My best this year is 45 meters.The first couple of throws today I was off. I hit the net. Then on the last round it felt really good, but they just weren't getting out there," said Mackersie. The effort was still good enough and certainly admirable for a man who only began hammer throwing eight years ago.
In the women's 60-64 age division , Yvonne Kirkpatrick, 60, from Idaho, took the gold medal with a throw of 25.58 meters. Kirkpatrick was happy to have thrown the farthest she's ever thrown. Kirkpatrick is another recent entrant to the hammer throw, saying she has only been doing it for about three years. "I just like the feeling. You're throwing a weight, but it just floats," Kirkpatrick said.
For complete track and field results, visit the National Games tab at NSGA.com
Here’s a quiz for you: James “Ed” True, of O’Fallon, Illinois, is: a) a shuffleboard player; b) a university instructor; c) an Air Force pilot, or d) a founding father of basketball in Ireland.
The “True” answer? E) all of the above!
While we’re at it, here’s one more distinction to add to that list - True is one of only eight remaining athletes who have competed in every National Senior Games since they began in 1987.
You might think 83-year-old Ed True has just moved randomly jumped from one position to another, becoming accomplished each time. No, there’s been a plan all the way, all the way to the shuffleboard event at the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana.
Ed True was an Air Force pilot, serving in the Vietnam War test program for mini-guns and C-47 aircraft. He was in Europe for 11 years and in the Far East for two years.
While living in Ireland in the ‘50s, True became a self-appointed ambassador for basketball. “I started basketball in Ireland through the U.S. State Department. I was a player initially and then I coached teams. My team actually won the European conference three times.”
Basketball Irish style contributed to True’s love affair with Europe. Even after his Air Force service ended, he continued to travel frequently. In the 80s, he combined this international passion with his love for youth work and began dedicating time to the Rotary Youth Exchange, a study-abroad program for teenagers. He continues to be involved in the program, consulting on travel to Australia, the Philippines, and other South Pacific/Asian countries.
Back in the States, True worked for federal banks and started several businesses. In 1991, after raising the necessary funds, he founded an indoor sports complex in O’Fallon. It is believed to be the first facility in the U.S. built for indoor softball. True and the complex were featured in Sports Illustrated.
Around the turn of this century,True began teaching business classes part-time at several universities,including St. Louis Community College and Southern Illinois University, which he continues to the present day.
So how did all this lead True to the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana? In fact, he’s been here the whole time. He served on one of the initial committees that organized the first Games in 1987, and he has competed in every National Senior Games as an athlete. He began with track & field 50M and 200M and has taken up several sports since. True recently tried his hand at pickleball, and chose to play doubles shuffleboard in Minnesota.
His partner is Alice Carroll, 83, of Syracuse, New York. They met at a previous Senior Games when they were both in need of a partner. It proved to be a winning combination, as they earned gold after limited practice together. “We’re very good friends, even though we only see each other once every two years,” said Carroll.
Given his record of accomplishment in diverse fields, what’s True most proud of? “Being in the Illinois State Senior Hall of Fame for community service. [That was for] being involved on school boards for 25 years, community council for 19 years, and being quite involved with my chamber of commerce.”
It’s amazing Ed True could pick just one thing.
Games’ Success Rides on Backs of Yellow-Clad Volunteers
If you’ve had a good time at The Games, thank somebody in a yellow shirt.
The shirts are worn by more than 1,500 volunteers for the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana. Volunteers play key roles throughout The Games, helping with athlete registration, competition support, award distribution and just about any other task that is needed to get people and things put in the right place.
“We had over 500 plus grassroots marketing events where we would set up a table,” said Beth Pinckney of the Minnesota Local Organizing Committee. The goal was to “recruit not only athletes, but volunteers and to build awareness [of The Games].”
Partnerships were also forged with nonprofits such as the YMCA and Meals on Wheels, to recruit volunteers for The Games.
Volunteers were issued a volunteer handbook, and underwent basic volunteer orientation before they started. Some volunteers, such as Jon Good of Edina, Minnesota, were intrigued by family friends who were participating in The Games. After finding out that his friend’s mother was playing table tennis, he signed up through The Games’ website.
“It really has been fun to be able to watch and be inspired by people at this age,” Good said. “There was a woman playing basketball yesterday at 90 years old. It’s a wonderful thing to see.”
Good said he enjoyed his experience so much that he signed up for additional volunteer shifts and that he would do it all over again.
“If there’s any way I can help out to put on a competition like this in a small way, it’s a privilege to do so,” Good said.
Pinkney said bringing The Games to Minnesota has been a great experience for those involved. She hopes that Birmingham, Alabama, the 2017 host of The Games, will “keep growing The Games and living the mission of health and wellness.”
3 Questions - Bill McCarthy, 55, Green, Ohio, Competing in Racquetball
What have you enjoyed most about the games?
The people. The people have been completely excellent. They’ve been very, very nice, and the whole atmosphere’s been very fun.
Are you planning on coming back to The Games?
This is my second Games. I played in Cleveland in 2013 and I plan on playing in Birmingham, Alabama in 2017. So far, just racquetball. That’s all I’m decent at. (laughs)
What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get home?
Probably splurge a little bit and maybe have a milkshake. While I was training, I gave up ice cream and milkshakes. Milkshakes are my favorite thing, so I’m going to go home and have a milkshake.