Dwight Smith, 94
Terry Smith, 74
Christi Smith Daigle, 51
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The theme for the 2023 National Senior Games presented by Humana is “Bridging Champions Through the Ages,” placing a spotlight on the intergenerational impact of Senior Games on families and society. The idea came from seeing so many children of senior athletes aging up and joining in the fitness, fun and fellowship that Senior Games are known for.
With so many two generation families popping up, we wondered if there could be a three-generation family coming to The Games. With Dwight Smith, Terry Smith and Christi Smith Daigle all signed up to go to Pittsburgh, we believe they will be the first such family to compete in National Senior Games.
Dwight Smith, like so many other longtime senior athletes, is a strong believer in fitness and encourages others to participate for the health and enjoyment of sports. At 94, he presents an irrefutable argument for keeping active. In our edited conversation with the three Smiths, we discover that Dwight actually used sports as way to get closer with his son Terry after realizing he had been so busy running a business that he had not been as engaged as a father in earlier years. He invited his son to start jogging with him, and later recruited Terry into basketball. The two are now closely bonded and have enjoyed seeing each other playing with their respective basketball teams in national competitions.
Terry enjoys basketball but has turned more attention to pickleball. Enter Terry’s daughter Christi, who was approaching 50 and realized she needed to up her fitness game. It was “Paw Paw” Dwight who suggested she pick up the paddle too. Terry and Christi did their research and got into the game recreationally. When Christi expressed interest in also going to Senior Games, Terry got the idea of playing mixed doubles with his daughter, which means father and daughter will have to compete in her hotly contested 50-54 age group.
Both Christi and Terry know their medal chances are slim, but that’s not the point. They have been transformed by sport, and the spark that ignited it came from the patriarch. The family is excited to know they are unique and Christi is already musing about having Smiths continue to participate down future generations.
Overcoming challenges, setting goals and practicing a healthy lifestyle are all Personal Best characteristics for successful aging. In this case, it’s a family affair sparked by a man who decided to get fit at age 50 and changed his life – and ultimately the lives of his loved ones.
Dwight, you have been a familiar face with us. How long have you been in Senior Games?
I played in my first Senior Games in 1993 and I have participated in every Nationals since that time with the exception of 2015.
I played in every sport that they would put out there to start off with. But in the last 15 years I’ve just played basketball. My team is the LARKS and we just went up an age group. We did not have enough for an 85 plus team last time, and we finally got that now.
So given your age, you are “playing down” with younger guys in their 80’s!
Yes, that is what I am playing. I’ve had a couple of people call me this year saying, ‘Let’s put together a 90 plus team.’ I said, ‘We can do that but we wouldn’t have any teams to play.’
What was your sporting life like growing up, Dwight?
I just played in high school, and I played all of the sports. I married my high school sweetheart when I was 18 years old, and we had a son when I was 19. Consequently, although my team had won a state championship in basketball the year that I graduated, I did not put my hand on a basketball or set foot on a basketball court after that until I was 63 years old.
In the time in between, did you play other sports?
I did a little jogging but I only started that after I was 50 years old. A fellow had invited me to come down to play basketball, and one day it was raining. I do construction work, so I said, ‘I’m going to go down there but I’m no going to like it.’ I went to the local health club anyway. There was a bunch of old men out there and they were trying to pass the ball and they were playing a little defense. I said, ‘You know, maybe I would like this.’ That is what got me started again playing basketball when I was 63 years old.
I’ll bet you had to shake off some rust.
Well, it was one thing for sure because I was getting older and I had been saying that I couldn’t do certain things and I didn’t like that. So it seemed right for me to get out and tell myself, ‘I believe I can get back in shape some way.’
You’ve won some medals over the years?
We actually won the first gold medal that was ever given in new 85-80 age group in 2017. I think we’ve won six or seven silvers and a couple of bronze. We won the silver four straight years, then we won the gold, and the following year we won the silver.
The family says you have a healthy history. Have you ever had any setbacks?
I’m fortunate, but there was one injury on the court that almost sat me down. When I was 75 or 76 years old we were playing basketball at the local gym, and as I was driving to the basket one of the fellows who was guarding me stuck his finger in my eye and I lost this eye completely. Now I had only one eye vision causing me to rethink, rehab, redesign and adjust the way I played the game of basketball in all phases of the game. With some retooling and especially God’s help I was able to overcome and continue competing in the game of basketball. That was a major step for me.
Now we know your history, tell us about how your son Terry got involved.
He and I both still work at the construction company, Industrial Enterprises here in Baton Rouge. I started it in 1967 and we have done all kinds of work in Arkansas and Louisiana. Terry always helped me. Now it is switched around and I am helping him and I don’t know if I like that or not. [Laugh] We did worlds of work at LSU. Every parking lot LSU has, we have done it. We also built the first all-weather running track at LSU and Southern University.
Terry is 74. He and I were not real close growing up. I had work running this construction company and he was growing up all of a sudden. So, I decided that I needed to do something and I said to him, ‘Hey, we don’t know each other too well. Let’s start doing something together.’ We started jogging.
Terry never played the sports in high school, he just chased women. [Laugh] One day about 25 years ago he just walked out on the court at the gym and started playing basketball. Of course, he never played and it took him a while, but he has participated in several Nationals and his team has won gold three times. He still plays basketball and wants to get into pickleball because of his knees. He will make a real good pickleball player. Terry has qualified for basketball and he is going to play pickleball in Pittsburgh.
Let’s bring in Terry to continue this story. How is it running the business your dad built?
TERRY: Dad likes it because he knows he taught me well and I learned it well. I found very few opportunities to change anything he taught me. He is a smart guy and he did everything right. Have no real reason to change anything that he set up for his company.
You did manage to turn your attention away from chasing girls to chasing sports as an adult![Laugh] I didn’t start any organized sports until I was a young adult. I used to race motorcycles for 5 or 6 years. I didn’t play any organized team sports until I was 50 when I started playing racquetball. I now play basketball. Our team is the LA Wheelers. One of the team members drove the big 18-wheeler trucks so we joked, ‘Hey we’re gonna roll all over the country.’ You know how those silly things kind of come together and that’s how we came up with LA Wheelers.
How did Dwight get you into basketball?
I had been going to the gym and he and some of his fellows invited me to play. I wasn’t really interested in playing, but then one day they were a man short and I was recruited from the treadmill out to the basketball court by him.
I had fun with them. I was only 49 years old and they were ancient. They were 20 years older than me and I thought maybe there’s something to this basketball because these guys were healthy and they were beating me and knocking me to the floor. It was a real challenge. I had to rise to their standard as I played with them for a few years.
It’s so great that sports brought you and your dad closer together.
Oh, it did. When we played locally back then the age range was anywhere from 45 to 65 and all those guys were much better than me because I had never participated in team sports. But going out there with my father – what a treat that was. I was getting taught by him and I absolutely loved it, and still love it.
I didn’t know the game that well but I was feisty so I went to National Senior Games and had a really good time. He was playing basketball with his team, 20 years older, and I was playing with my team, 20 years younger, and we had a ball. It was awesome to be playing with my dad in a different city in the same arena.
I actually don’t play much basketball anymore and I am now mainly interested in Pickleball because of my daughter Christi who just turned 50 and wants to play at Nationals. I will be her doubles partner.
Wait. You are 74 and you want to play pickleball in a 50-54 group?
That’s correct. I can’t play up in basketball with my father, but I can play down with my daughter. I’ll be enjoying being in National Senior Games with my daughter and my father.
I never thought I was going to get to play pickleball with my daughter and it is going to be so much fun. It is going to be great to cheer on my father when he plays basketball, and for him to cheer me and Christi when we play pickleball.
Now, let’s get Christi to chime in here. So your dad has enough energy to play with a younger generation?
CHRISTI: Oh, he has a lot of energy. He’s just full of action, adventure and just full of anything exciting. You would never know his age based on his level of activity.
Were you a gym rat growing up?
Oh no, not at all. I didn’t really start to get interested in anything fitness until I was probably 40 years old. That’s when I decided I’m gonna start doing something to be healthy. I didn’t want to be on medicines and all that kind of stuff when I got older, so I started to make healthy choices and getting involved in different things. I started off with Zumba and yoga and I still do yoga on a regular basis.
When I started hitting 49, I really needed to up my game so I decided to become certified as a barre fitness instructor. I completed that certification last summer. I wanted to have that under my belt when I actually rolled over into 50. My dad has attended my barre fitness classes. It is fun and funny because he is the only male in there. So, I get to see my dad every Monday and Thursday.
Then when I became 50, Paw Paw said I could qualify for these Senior Games. I never really thought about it in those terms because I was always the spectator. We’ve been all over the country watching Paw Paw since he started.
I asked Paw Paw what the heck I could even do and he said, ‘Well Christi, you need to pick up that Pickleball paddle.’ When he said that, it hit me like a ton a bricks and I thought, ‘Hey, I could.’ So I just started playing locally and dad came out there with me and my sisters and we would just hit the ball around and pick up the rules as we went. We accepted guidance and did a ton of research and it became a hobby on Saturdays. It started off as just talk and now here we are.
So you’ve only been playing pickleball for about a year?
Exactly. It’s only been a year or so I’m still new to the sport and it’s very exciting and fun. It’s something that I can do for a long time ahead.
Given your newness and playing with a guy 24 years older, you should know you two are probably going to get smoked in competition.
Oh, for sure. I am counting on that. [Laugh] He is so athletic and has always been flexible, so he would really be an asset to me as my doubles partner.
When I went to the qualifying event it was funny because all these ladies were so experienced and all I could do was put on my tennis skirt and my visor and just get out there and do my best. You could tell their level was so much higher than mine, and maybe they didn’t appreciate that so much. At one point I just remember holding my hands up and saying, ‘OK ladies, ladies, ladies, I’m here to make you feel good about your game!’ I was I struggling to stay out of the kitchen and I was struggling to do all the things that you’re supposed to do to keep up with those ladies.
I always feel like there’s so much room for improvement. I’ve got so far to go but no matter what my level of expertise, I’m still having fun every time I get out there.
Both your dad and Paw Paw must’ve been great role models.
I remember when I was a young kid my dad and Paw Paw would always take a morning jog around the neighborhood. They were just always involved in something physical -my dad playing racquetball and Paw Paw being the basketball star. They were both very good role models and examples but not in a pushy way. You don’t really realize how cool it is until you kind of look around and realize OK, well not everybody’s Paw Paw is doing this, this is pretty awesome!
They’ve always just been super active. Paw Paw taught my son how to play basketball – and that’s his great grandfather! It’s just something that kind of runs in our blood. I’ve never been a very athletic type naturally. All of my skills are learned through practice. I’m petite and have just never had the athletic build, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve really valued health and natural wellness and living a long healthy life. That is way more important than what’s on the outside.
Did you work at the construction company?
No I don’t work at the company. I’m a licensed clinical social worker. I work in the school system and deal with mental health, and you know that mental health and physical health is such an important connection to have. One feeds into the other, so I’ve really been able to experience the connection firsthand through different cases and my professional life, and in my personal life.
Do you have kids in sports, Christi? Will this legacy continue?
I have two. Gabriel is 14 and he is on the tennis team, the only freshman on his high school tennis team. I beg him to come out and play pickleball with me, but he just isn’t having it yet. He’s got tennis down pat. Breanna is my daughter played tennis in high school. She plays recreational sports at LSU.
It would be awesome if generations of Smiths down the line were still in the National Senior Games. My grandfather is just such a force and he’s the gentlest force you have ever known. It is an incredible journey that we are able to take with him.
Terry, what do you appreciate most about what Dwight has accomplished and inspired all of you to follow?
TERRY: He really is doing great for being in his 90s, and hopefully I got some of those genes. He never crammed anything down my throat, and he always encouraged me and allowed me to be my own person from both a business and personal standpoint. He has never lived his life through me to continue anything.
I look at him and all of his peers today at 74 and I want what they have. There are not many weaknesses with him and his generation. I am sure it is lifestyle and some of it is being born the right way. But even if you are born not in the best health, you can still get yourself there.