View photos of the action from today's competition here.
The Golden Girls of The Games
In the midst of cameras, reporters, family and fellow athletes, three women warmly embrace each other. The women, each from different states, proudly stand side by side after completing the 95+ 50Y backstroke race on Wednesday. You would think they were long lost friends, but the 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana is their first time competing against one another.
Gladys Williamson’s first competition was at the Indiana Senior Games, where she placed fifth. She was so proud she cried, and from that moment she fell in love with competing. Today, the 98-year-old has gold hanging around her neck.
“I figured this is my last, so I better do my best,” Gladys laughs.
The farmer's daughter credits her natural swimming ability to the fact she is a Pisces. She always enjoyed swimming as a teen, and eventually married a professional swimmer. During the warm summers in Illinois, her family would practice in the 60-foot pool in her backyard.
Proudly, Gladys says that she is the reason her son, Walter Morse, and daughter, Martha Keifer, also swim in the National Senior Games. She told them, “As long as you’re here, you better get in the pool and swim.”
“She’s setting a pretty high bar for both of us to follow,” Walter says .
Gladys is in good health, although she now lives in a nursing home. Before leaving I ask Gladys for words of wisdom. What is the secret to her golden success?
“Just keep going, don’t give up.” She encourages as she crosses her legs and places her hands over her knee. “Keep looking forward to the next day and pray for God to be with us.”
Ruth Thompson, 97, and Hollyce Kirkland, 98, competed alongside Gladys in today's race. One word describes all three: fortunate. They agree that The Games are encouraging, and that it’s invigorating to be around others their age who are still active. Ruth, has been competing for more than 20 years. She took up swimming once she realized she was getting to the age she could no longer race her bike.
“Oh it’s great! I’m thankful I can still do it at this age,” Ruth says excitedly. “I do what I can do.”
Hollyce Kirkland claims she wasn’t into sports growing up, but to those who know her today, she is an athlete. A local aquatics coordinator encouraged Hollyce to compete after noticing her swim at the community center. After turning 89, Hollyce caught the competition bug. She is scheduled to run in the women’s 100- and 800-meter track races that follow her swims at Birmingham Crossplex. Hollyce says backstroke is her favorite event, because the backwards position makes it easier to breathe. She spends her days swimming or taking walks around her neighborhood.
“The Games give me a chance to compete, which is something entirely new to me,” Hollyce says. “Part of it is a challenge, and part of it is to be able to see what others can do.”
Though these three ladies are friendly on the pool deck, they have come to Birmingham to win. This competition is bittersweet for them all, as they explain that they cannot expect to compete again. But that doesn’t keep them from living. Gladys says it best; “You don’t just stop doing something you like to do.”
Don’t be so surprised if one or all three take the pool in Albuquerque in 2019. They are certainly doing the right things to make that happen.
By: Caroline Watt
Games Daily Recap
Perseverance and Positivity Helps Rita Ayers Conquer MS
Rita Ayers is a 65-year-old cyclist who has overcome her fair share of adversity in the past two decades, but she has never let her physical condition affect her desire for activity.
“I have multiple sclerosis, and find that my legs don't live up to my training in time trials, even though I continue to do them to push my muscles to keep them working better,” she explains. “When I race, I have to work with whatever body shows up that day, because I don’t know which it’s gonna be. I do something hard every day. I push myself every day.”
“I didn’t start cycling because of MS, I’ve always been an athlete,” adds the resident of Manteo, North Carolina. “When I was five I was only friends with boys. We would play sandlot ball.” Before Title IX opened more opportunities for girls, Rita did not have the privilege of competing. “Sports in high school didn’t exist, so I played basketball with the boys in the neighborhood.” She later went on compete in basketball, volleyball, softball and tennis at Regis College.
Her passion for sports pushed Rita to constantly reinvent herself. “In my 40s I had to change my sports. I couldn’t play tennis anymore, or anything that required hand-eye coordination because of nerve damage in my eye. I have a lesion wrapped around my optic nerve. I also have two lesions on my spinal cord.”
Rita refuses to let her condition stand in her way, and continues to find ways to compete. At 50, she started running. “I felt like I was losing my aerobic conditioning. I’ve done 35 half marathons since,” she says, proudly noting that her best time was two hours twenty minutes at age 57.
The reality of Rita’s MS diagnosis hit four years ago, but she has remained determined to keep a positive mindset. She transitioned to cycling through an unfortunate injury to her meniscus. “I think the key is exercise, hard exercise. That whatever your issue is or isn’t, if you do something hard every day you’ll be in a better place physically than you would be otherwise.”
Rita is thrilled to be in The Games. “It’s cool to meet other people who are staying active. These women, they’re crazy fast and it’s impressive. I think it says you don’t have to get old.”
Now retired, she enjoys adventurous vacations with her two children. “We spent five weeks in Australia and New Zealand and camped in the Outback. We hiked and camped the Inka Trail. We went to Iceland last summer and did a half marathon. We did a 180-mile cycling tour and cycled the Southern Circle. Went right up to the geyser and the big water falls. It was really fun!”
Rita also finds joy helping others with a charity she founded in 2015 called the Just Enough Fund. “We help people who have just have enough to make it, and if something happens, they’re going to go under,” she explains. “We raise roughly $10,000 help others get back on their feet.”
Since the summer of 2014, Rita has been free from medication and has not seen any new symptoms. “I believe in positivity. Think about it. People get sick from stress. Well, you know what? Why doesn’t that work the other way? If you’re really positive, why can’t you cure stuff?”
By: Gracie Murray
Celebrate 30 Years of National Senior Games
What makes the 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana extra special? This year is the 30th Anniversary of The Games! Get a taste of National Senior Games history by visiting the NSGA 30th Anniversary Exhibition in The Village Health & Wellness Expo. See how The Games have evolved from 1987-2017 with posters, medals and other memorabilia on display.
Also, do not miss the Celebration of Athletes Friday in Legacy Arena that is located next to the BJCC action. A highlight will be the premiere of a special documentary about the history of The Games, narrated by four-time Olympic Gold Medalist John Naber.
For even more 30th anniversary content, visit the commemorative micro site here. View a detailed history of the Senior Games Movement, vintage videos, poignant athlete Memories of The Games and more. Thanks for celebrating 30 years of fitness, fun and fellowship with us!
26 Marathons and Still Running
“I’m not a bowler,” George Freeman said right after he finished competing in men’s 85+ bowling, “I’m a runner.”
The affable athlete is one of the “Great Eight” competitors who have been in every National Senior Games since the inaugural event in 1987. You can read his extended interview feature, along with those of the seven others, in the 30th Anniversary section at NSGA.com. He humbly attributes his lucky streak to his good health, and says the secret to staying young is to “not do a lot of bad stuff. I don’t drink a lot. I don’t do bad stuff.”
George worked as a guidance counselor and a high school coach in upstate New York. He coached nearly every sport he could, but cross country was his favorite. He built his high school program up from nine boys to 50 in the short nine years he coached.
Now retired to Foley, Alabama, George looks back on the 26 marathons under his belt, joking “I can tell you this: I was tired after every single one!” His favorite race was the half marathon he ran with his daughter. “My granddaughter made signs for us to put on our backs. My daughter’s sign said, ‘Give my dad a big hand- He’s 83 years old and still running!’ with the arrow pointing to me. My sign said, ‘Give my daughter a big hand for putting up with me all these years!’ Thousands of people passed us during that race, and 99 percent of them had something to say to us.”
He relates his pride witnessing his granddaughter recently graduated from Yale. “When she walked across the stage and got the diploma, I heard that name ‘Freeman’ [her middle name] and it sounded like music!” George exclaims.
George is a strong proponent of not only athletics and the life and fitness lessons it teaches, but also of academic excellence. The pride in his voice makes it clear that his granddaughter continually impresses him with her accomplishments.
To stay healthy, George lifts weights three times a week at his local gym. “I feel great. I mean, at least I think I do. I don’t know what an 85-year-old man is supposed to feel like!”
It doesn’t sound like George will be slowing down anytime soon, and will be extending his streak in 2019 at The Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
By: Ashley Williams
Get in the Spirit with Olympic Day - Friday, June 9
Celebrate Olympic Day with the National Senior Games! On June 9, former Olympic and Paralympic medalists and youth from Birmingham area YMCA’s will team up for a special NSGA Olympic Day program. Alabama Olympians Jennifer Chandler and Willie Green, and Paralympian Bob Lujano will share their inspiring stories and interact with youth.
Participants will also tour National Senior Games competition in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center. The public is invited to attend and observe the fun, which begins at 1 p.m. in the BJCC East Meeting Rooms A, B and C. Olympic Day was created by the United States Olympic Committee to promote fitness and Olympic ideals. Hundreds of locally-organized Olympic Day events take place around the country yearly during the month of June.
San Diego’s Class Act
Donna Benson may not be the inspiration behind her basketball team’s name, but she is the embodiment of a “San Diego Class Act.” Now 75, Donna’s challenges began in 1999 when she suffered a brain injury. During her rehabilitation process, she befriended Wendy, a fellow survivor. The two quickly bonded as they had similar experiences and struggles during their time in rehabilitation.
“When you see someone going through the same thing as you, it creates an unspoken bond,” Donna says. Little did she know, Wendy would become an integral part in her life as the two worked together to improve mobility, balance, and activity in a positive way. “I would get frustrated and just start hitting a basketball when Wendy would tell me to channel that anger into shooting the ball instead,” Donna adds.
Kindred spirits never part despite what life throws at them. This proved true for Donna and Wendy after learning Wendy could never play basketball again. Wendy made Donna promise to play basketball for her, and Donna happily accepted the request. “If it wasn’t for her and the many others that helped me along the way, I wouldn’t be here right now, doing this.”
Donna’s plans were unexpectedly delayed when she received a colon cancer diagnosis. However, beating the disease was nothing more than another challenge for Donna to face. Like her rehabilitation, she again persevered by the inspiration of Wendy. “I have so much to be thankful for, and I am always inspired by others that have faced worse challenges than I have,” Donna claims while motioning towards her basketball team.
Donna demonstrates her sentiment as she cheerfully bounces around the court, seeming to have a little extra spring in her step. Few people can overcome what Donna has endured and manage to crack jokes about it. “When I was younger I was all brain and no brawn, now after the brain injury and playing basketball I’m all brawn and no brains!”
Thanks for being a true San Diego Class Act, Donna!
By: Stephen Porier
Explore Birmingham With the IN Guide App
Experience the Magic City like a local with the Birmingham IN Guide app! Browse extensive lists of top restaurants, shopping, attractions and events near you, then get there with in-app directions and reviews. Not sure where to go? Try a custom tour based on your interests, such as Foodies’ Delight or Shop ‘Til You Drop. For a spontaneous adventure, use the Invent A Day feature and shake your phone for a randomized day trip. The IN Guide app is available for download from the App Store and Google Play. Happy exploring!
Humana Game Changers: Fay (94) and Irma Fay Bond (67), Oriental, NC
Fay Bond, also known as the “Sweetheart of Oriental,” discovered her talent for long jumping in the most unexpected way; while she was visiting her husband’s grave, she had to jump over a ditch and found that she was a natural. Through the encouragement of her daughter Irma Fay Bond, she continues to stay active and vows to keep going for as long as she can. Every second Sunday in August since 1969, nearly 400 people attend Fay’s annual watermelon festival in Oriental – rain or shine. Fay will compete in shot put, discus and long jump.
Irma Fay Bond was an All-Conference and MVP athlete in track and field in high school and has broken all the running long jump records for the 55-59, 60-64 and 65-69 age groups in North Carolina. Irma’s love for sports started at an early age when she would play tag football with her brothers. Irma continued her involvement in sports as a student activity coordinator at a local college. Over the years, Irma has shared her love for sports and healthy living with her mother Fay Bond. Irma will compete in the 50-meter, 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter races, as well as long jump, at the 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana.