Personal Best Tour - June 27, 2016, Franklin, Tennessee
In Photo: NSGA CEO Marc T. Riker (right) with Personal Best athlete Eleanor Pendergraft (holding certificate) along with (l to r) Tennessee Senior Olympics Board Chair Lisa Wright, Executive Director Christine Dewbre and triathlete Barbara Bogart, who first encouraged her to get into the games.
“Y’all are the huggingest bunch I’ve ever seen!”
So opened the Tennessee Senior Olympics (TSO) athlete dinner and party as Williamson County Parks and Recreation Director Gordon Hampton welcomed over 400 athletes and supporters to Liberty Hall at The Factory in Franklin. At the dinner-and at every sport venue we visited-the athletes, family members and volunteers created an atmosphere as much like a family reunion as a serious sporting event to qualify for the 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana in Birmingham next June.
The program itself demonstrated the support enjoyed by TSO with remarks by Hampton, Franklin Mayor Ken Moore and TSO Board Chair Lisa Wright, who is also with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Tennessee, a longtime sponsor. TSO, now in its 36th year, also receives public support that allows for a network of district games to be held annually around the state as a lead-in to the State Finals qualifying events we visited.
Our featured Personal Best athlete Eleanor Pendergraft is well known to her Tennessee peers, yet there was no table talk and all ears focused to the stage while Riker recounted her remarkable story of escaping from the grips of multiple sclerosis and to keep the disease at bay through her athletic participation. “People might say this is a miracle, but Eleanor’s accomplishments came from making the decision to work her way past her challenges,” Riker said. “At every step, with every setback, she continued to make the decision to pursue her goals. This shows that we all can make a decision to improve our level of fitness and enjoy a higher quality of life.”
In her comments, Pendergraft shared that an automobile accident a few months ago (which she clearly established was not her fault) resulted in extensive damage to her artificial knee. Because the surgery and rehab would have prevented her from qualifying in the state finals, the feisty runner decided to put off the procedure until July 6th so she could qualify in her running events with the assistance of her walker. “My doctor expects me to be as good as I was before, so I don’t care how fast I do my events, because this gets me to my goal of competing in the National Senior Games next year.”
Because there were not many women entered into track events in the 80-84 division at these finals, all she had to do was gut it out and finish her events to qualify. We’re happy to report that Pendergraft did indeed finish eight events, including the 5K road race which we witnessed early the next morning. In typical style, she “sprinted” with her walker to the finish line and a hero’s welcome by other runners. To emphasize the family feel of the Tennessee games, we met many married couples and siblings participating in events as we observed activity in eight sports. In bowling, we found 53-year-old Eric Barnes, whose mixed doubles partner is his 82-year old mother Rowena Cupp, who has been to several national games. Barnes, who has special needs, counted the days until he was 50 so he could be in Senior Games. Here are two other family examples:
How could we pass up “Team Davidson” with smiles like this? Swimming sisters Susan Rollins (A/K/A “The Machine”), Marion Bailey, and newbie Beth Share pumped themselves up using their maiden name for the team.
Marc Riker met sisters Barbara Cornwall and Betty Case and discovered these harmless-looking ladies are fierce competitors in badminton and pickleball. They proudly recounted coming home from the 2009 National Senior Games in Palo Alto with a gold medal in women’s 75-79 doubles.
Congratulations, Tennessee. You really know how to have great games and to make visitors feel welcome!