View photos of the action from today's competition here.
A Celebration for The Ages
Friday’s Celebration of Athletes did not disappoint the thousands of athletes and spectators who entered Legacy Arena and found pageantry, ceremony, recognition, inspiring speeches, and top entertainment.
While the colorful Parade of Athletes is always the favorite activity due to its participatory nature, this program also packed a punch with a stirring tribute to the history of The Games, including a colorful and informative 30 year documentary video narrated by four-time gold medalist John Naber and recognition of key individuals named as “30 Champions of The Games.” The peak moment in the 30th Anniversary commemoration, by audience acclamation, was the presentation of personalized medals to the “Great Eight” athletes who have managed to compete in all National Senior Games since the beginning in 1987.
However, there were other peak moments. Marathon pioneer and barrier-breaker Kathrine Switzer, introduced by Humana Chief Consumer Officer Jody Bilney, struck a chord in her remarks about cultural change over the past 50 years, proclaiming, “Women’s running was a social revolution. It’s not even about running anymore, it’s about changing our lives. We can do the same thing with active aging.”
Continuing on, Kathrine added, “So what I’d really like to do is illicit a pledge to you that you’re going to tell every child you know about the importance of staying active all their lives, and I want you to tell at least one other senior that they too can change their lives by simply putting on a pair of shoes or going to a pool and doing it… taking the first step.“ She also expressed her anticipation to “lace it up and be a guest runner” in the 10K event the following morning.
On the lighter side, singer Pat Boone elicited fan squeals and singalongs to his biggest hit song, “Love Letters in the Sand” and sharing some of his memories and thoughts about being a senior athlete himself in basketball. The audience was also entertained by ventriloquist Mark Rubben, Flamenco dancers presented by 2019 Host Albuquerque, and closing music by Mother May I.
NSGA presented its two highest honors during the evening, with the first giving the Harris Frank Distinguished Service award to John White, a key organizer with Wisconsin Senior Olympics and contributing time to service on the NSGA board of directors. Recently-elected NSGA Board Chair Kate Amack of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Senior Games was presented the Warren Blaney Lifetime Service Award.
While all of our Celebration of Athletes have a special luster, this one really created a sense of pride and nostalgia among the athletes, from the opening march to the passing of the torch from Birmingham, Alabama to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Long Live The Challenge!
By: Del Moon
Games Daily Recap
Boone’s Basketball Creates a Buzz
The 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana has an exciting atmosphere of its own, but a special competitor took the excitement to a whole new level at men’s basketball play on Friday.
Pat Boone, pop-culture heartthrob of the ‘50s and ‘60s, is still stopping women in their tracks. As the crowd formed around Court 12 in the BJCC, women of all ages, but particularly those over 65, were elated to see their teenage crush shooting hoops. One group of women even started singing one of Pat’s songs while he was warming up. “We are all so excited to see him compete and perform tonight,” says one of the fans watching as the Virginia Creepers took action on the floor. By the end of the day the team had fought their way to the winner’s bracket for the next level of play.
Boone, who once co-owned the Oakland Oaks ABA basketball team, demonstrated he was a tough competitor, spilling into a roll on the floor as he chased a ball heading out of bounds. He also perfectly executed a behind-the-back pass and sunk a three-pointer to add to his highlight reel. The atmosphere was electric as the team geared up for the second half of their game. The crowd grew larger as the game progressed, and a gaggle of television cameras bunched around the celebrity before anyone could approach the star for a word or autograph.
After playing his heart out on the court, Pat sang his heart out at the Celebration of Athletes in the Legacy Arena. Performing his biggest hit song, Love Letters in the Sand, Pat delighted fans old and new. See you in 2019, Pat!
By: Gracie Murray
Philipp Djang – A Funny Guy Whose Swimming is No Joke
Philipp Djang is a star in the swimming pool, holding multiple National Senior Games Association records. He loves to swim, especially with his friend and “Great Eight” athlete, Jordan Wolle, who shares the same hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico. .
“We have been swimming together at New Mexico State University (NMSU),” says the 63-year-old who swims at his alma mater with Jordan most mornings. “I can count on every morning discussing the philosophy of life.”
Jordan is one of the eight athletes who have competed in every National Senior Games since 1987. “He’s got more t-shirts than Walmart,” Philipp jokes.
With his retirement upcoming, Philipp plans to spend more time with Jordan and their friends. “I’ll be hanging out with these guys,” he says. “They have a lunch thing on Wednesdays,” to which Jordan joked, “I’ll count on it when I see it!”
Philipp has attended The Games since 2005, with one exception due to an overseas assignment in Australia. Philipp credits Jordan and his swim coach with getting him started in The Games. “Because of him and because of another gentleman who taught me how to swim at NMSU, they essentially got me started on this, and that’s why I’m here,” says Philipp.
Philipp is competing in the 50, 100, and 200-yard backstroke as well as the 100 and 200-yard individual medley. He also does triathlons and is an avid racquetball player. New Mexico has stand-up comedy competitions, which he competes in, so naturally he shares a joke.
“Did you hear the police here in Birmingham are having a really bad problem with the crime, did you know that?” starts Philipp. “In fact, people broke into the police station down the road yesterday and the only thing they took were toilet seats. The really bad thing about it is that the police have nothing to go on!” Philipp’s sense of humor and positive outlook on life is apparent. His friend Jordan can’t help but give a chuckle.
Though he loves to tell jokes, swimming is Philipp’s heart and soul. “I grew up swimming. It’s basically the thing I can do best.” His impressive results show the time and dedication he devotes to the sport.
“Where do you get satisfaction from?” Philipp asks me. “A satisfactory!” But Philipp also gets his satisfaction from competing and winning here at the National Senior Games.
By: Madison Lathum
Alabama Mother and Son Have Unique Bond
After a 10-year hiatus from competition, Elizabeth Howell is back in action for the 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana. Elizabeth brought along her son, Marion (Danny) Howell, for his first National Senior Games.
The pair are happy to be at The Games this year, since Birmingham is only an hour away from their hometown of Verbena, Alabama.
Elizabeth’s inspiration is the reason why Danny is competing this year. Danny is a special needs adult, and he lives with Elizabeth full-time.
“I brought him up to enjoy the world,” says the 80-year-old mom. “I’m really blessed he can come out here with me.”
Danny has always loved watching his mother compete, and enjoys seeing all the different events take place. “I love watching her play, and then watching the others,” he says.
Both are participating in multiple track and field events. Elizabeth takes on the long jump, 50- and 100-meter races, hammer throw, shot put, discus, javelin, and horseshoes; Danny competes in javelin, shotput, discuss, and horseshoes.
Danny, who is in the 60-64 age group, believes his best event will be horseshoes. “Horseshoes, I’m good at,” he remarks.
Elizabeth is pleasantly surprised and proud to take home the bronze in the 80-84 long jump in Birmingham. The accomplishment is made even more special because it’s her first National Senior Games medal. “I never expected it,” she explains. “I just come for the enjoyment of it.”
Part of the reason for her absence is significant health challenges. Elizabeth has recovered from two strokes, both in the early 2000s, and battles with blockage in her lungs. However, she doesn’t let it hinder her. “I’m gonna try regardless.”
She got started in the The Games when a friend asked her to play on her softball team. From then on, she has loved the challenge. She entered track and field to keep moving, and because it helps her not only physically, but mentally. This mindset is exactly what The Games are all about.
“Get up and get out there,” says Elizabeth. “Enjoy what God’s given you, the privilege to have before you. If you don’t, you’re gonna lose out and wish you had been able to do it.”
Elizabeth is excited to watch Danny compete in his first National Senior Games. She is proud of what he has been able to do. Danny is anxious to get started, and hopes to take home a medal himself.
“I want to get going,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
By: Madison Lathum
Olympic Spirit Comes to The Games
Excited chatter filled the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center as YMCA campers filed in for Olympic Day with the National Senior Games. They gathered to celebrate Olympic ideals of friendship, excellence and respect, while interacting with home-state Olympians.
Though the athletes who participate in The Games are ages 50 and older, Olympic Day attracts a younger audience and serves as a platform for education and giving back. Two Alabama Olympic Gold Medalists, track speedster Willie Smith and diver Jennifer Chandler, plus Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Bronze Medalist Bob Lujano, shared their personal journeys.
The speakers all had one theme in common: set your goals high and stick to them.
The Olympians were excited to speak to the children. “It’s a great honor, and it’s also a great responsibility. It’s something I feel humbled to do,” says Jennifer, who was born in Langdale, Alabama and went on to become an Olympic champion at the 1976 Games. She used this example as a testament to the fact that Olympians can come from anywhere, and achieve their goals only through hard work and determination. She asks, “Who in here will be an Olympian?” to a room of wide eyed young athletes, many of which raised their hands.
Bob Lujano’s journey began in 1979 when he contracted a rare form of meningitis that resulted in the loss of his four limbs. Since then, Lujano has overcome challenges even greater than this, facing grueling competition during his time training with Team USA. Lujano explained that his training regimen was the hardest thing he ever had to do on a daily basis.
“I think it’s important to let them know that we were where they are at one time,” Bob says. “You know, not sure what we’re going to do, not sure which direction to go, but if you set your mind to it, it doesn’t matter what your ability level is, but you have to stay active. Write a goal down and shoot for it. That’s what inspired us, and that’s what we’re here to do. Keep paying it forward,” Lujano adds.
The last of the three to speak was Willie Smith. Willie was born in Pennsylvania, but went on to compete as an Auburn Tiger and has made his home in Alabama since. Willie’s message to the kids: “You have to get an education.” Though his track career was a dream, he says, his degree from Auburn bettered his life following his professional athletic career. Willie took home Olympic Gold in Los Angeles, and continues to use his track experience as owner of a training facility in the Birmingham area.
After the inspirational addresses, the campers went upstairs to learn about badminton and table tennis. Athletes demonstrated how the sport is played, and chose an eager audience member to try out it out. The entire event is a symbol of how important it is to share a passion with others. The kids jumped right in; learning a new skill and taking home life lessons.
“My favorite part was when Willie Smith came and talked about track, because I love track!” YMCA camper Tru said.
“My favorite part was the table tennis!” YMCA campers Jada, Amaya, and Imon said.
Olympic Day was an inspirational experience for all in attendance. Who knows? Maybe the campers will even have an answer for the quintessential dinner table question tonight, “So what did you do at camp today?”
By: Ashley Williams and Katie McCormack
100+ Discus Showdown
Sunshine and camera flashes shone Friday during the 100+ discus event at Samford University track. D Paul Miller, 99, faced off against seasoned 103-year-old John Zilverberg. The event was less competition, however, and more a celebration of life.
A good friend introduced D Paul to discus many years ago. Today was D Paul’s first time throwing the implement in two years. He’s currently healing from a compression fracture that made him consider missing this year's Games entirely.
“I enjoy it so much I like to keep going as long as I can,” says D Paul, who turns 100 this August. “When I was little I wondered when the end would come, and I’m still wondering!”
From across the track, you can feel the love between D Paul and his son, Richard Miller. Richard accompanies his father to his events and gently guides him through the process. As he snaps photos and stands by his side for each interview, it is easy to recognize the love of a proud son.
“I posted about his race last night on Facebook.” Richard laughs as he scrolls through pictures of female athletes hugged around his dad. “I think he’s enjoying the ladies the most.”
D Paul grew up in western Kansas during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. “I would wake up in the morning and there would be a white spot where my head laid and the whole room was full of dust," he explains.
His mother used a shovel to scoop the dust off the floor. D Paul recalls how the dark dust clouds confused even the chickens, who would come home at noon. After surviving The Great Depression, he moved away to teach school. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska, and began teaching at Indiana Wesleyan University Athletic Department. He considers it to be one of his greatest accomplishments.
“I think it’s important to have good friends and to involve myself intellectually,” he advises. “Along with food, diet, and exercise.”
Back home D Paul has a suitcase full of state medals and 24 National Senior Games medals to match. However, humility is an important value for D Paul, who says his family raised him that way.
“I have mixed feelings, a love and a hate. I don’t like all of the publicity,” D Paul says matter-of-factly. “But at the same time, you can’t help but have satisfaction that comes from the recognition.”
Paul's opponent, John Zilverberg, is a former cattle rancher from South Dakota. A dedicated competitor, John has not missed a local competition in over 30 years. John took second place in today’s match-up. A little bummed about the result, John says he has to be satisfied. “It’s a good feeling,” John says.
Early on John never imagined living to the age of 103. Running a cattle ranch, John has come across all kinds of obstacles. John’s parents emigrated from the Netherlands and settled in America as farmers. At the beginning of World War II, he enlisted in the Marines and spent the next four years fighting in the South Pacific. In 1994, he was inducted into the Pearl Harbor Hall of Fame. Few will be shocked if he competes at 105 in the 2019 National Senior Games.
“I don’t know. At my age that’s a long way off,” John laughs. “Let’s leave a question mark there.”
With age comes wisdom, and both of these men have experienced life to the fullest. D Paul perhaps left us with the best advice, his three keys to happiness; “Always have something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.”
By: Caroline Watt
Humana Game Changer: Rose Roylo, 88, Radcliff, KY
Rose Roylo’s love of sports began at a young age despite disapproval from her father, who told her to focus more on “girl things.” Rose continued to follow her passion for sports and was voted the best athlete in her high school. Her passion was reinforced after she met her husband, who became her “partner in life, love and in sports” and competed in mixed doubles bowling with her until he passed away. In 2004, Rose received the Meritorious Service Award and a Hall of Fame induction from the Louisville Bowling Association. Rose will compete in bowling – singles and doubles – at the 2017 National Senior Games.