When we first called longtime volunteer and organizer Lucy Bickham to ask if NSGA could participate in the Celebration of Athletes for the Mississippi Senior Olympics (MSO), she warned us that there might not be more than 50 or 60 people coming. After all, the Mississippi Senior Olympics was merging with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Senior Games for the first time. Would people come down from the north end of the state and surrounding states? Then, the week of their games, the weather looked rough and threatened to keep travelers home. So no one really knew who would come, and what to expect.
When we arrived we found a hardy group of hurricane-tested senior athletes and friends from several states who turned out in numbers beyond the organizers’ hopes. More than 600 people ended up participating. The rains were not as heavy and only affected the schedule for two sports. And close to 150 showed up to socialize and enjoy the Celebration of Athletes held at the Donal Snyder Recreation Center in Biloxi. Needless to say, everyone was happy.
In addition to our Personal Best presentation featuring race walker Donna Gonzales- shown in top photo with (l to r) Biloxi Mayor Robert Deming III, MSO Co-Chair and Biloxi Recreation Director Cheryl Bell and NSGA CEO Marc T. Riker – attendees also witnessed an unusual honor. As part of the annual MSO Hall of Fame honors, organizers decided to induct the entire cities of Gulfport and Biloxi for their commitment to senior health and fitness by agreeing to host the new combined games on the Gulf Coast. There was also a lighter side as the evening closed with line dance and karaoke medal competition.
During our presentation, Riker acknowledged several athletes we considered to feature, including the 90 year old Bickham (a passionate shuffleboarder who tirelessly serves MSO and her community in many ways), 20-year Biloxi recreation director and National Senior Games athlete Donal Snyder (for whom the building was named), longtime basketball sparkplug Eldredge Boyd, and others. Riker also explained that while we normally choose one person to feature, every senior athlete is an example of Personal Best attitude through their continuing participation and the health benefits that come from it. “I challenge each one of you to recruit one other person to also become active and to consider taking up their own favorite sport as you have done.”
You simply have to read Donna Gonzales’ Personal Best profile “Walk Like A Mississippian” to appreciate her unique story that made her a great example of Personal Best. For the sake of brevity, the highlight of Riker’s presentation was mentioning that she had once taught belly dancing at the Jackson YMCA and that it seems to have provided an advantage to help her learn and practice the hip control necessary to succeed with race walking. At the close of the program, NSGA Communications and Media Director Del Moon, Gonzales and Riker playfully struck the “walk like an Egyptian” pose. It was strangely appropriate!
Before leaving, we enjoyed visiting several sport venues and meeting athletes. Many expressed their excitement about going to Minnesota this summer for the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana – and even more excitement about the news that Birmingham, Alabama would be the 2017 host city. Finally, we want to thank everyone for the Southern hospitality, and to especially recognize the hard work of Co-Chair Don Cross, registration wizard Glenda Carter and the sport directors who produced the success and results that their 2015 games enjoyed.