Nearly 300 athletes and friends gathered for the 2018 Idaho Senior Games (ISG) kickoff BBQ held on August 2nd at scenic Julia Davis Park in downtown Boise. They got more meat than just tasty chicken and pulled pork with an NSGA Personal Best presentation recognizing 78-year-old Boise athlete Dick Johnson, who inspires others to pursue active lifestyles with his “never say quit” outlook. (Read his feature “Pickleball Saved My Life” here.)
NSGA CEO Marc T. Riker lauded the Idaho native for his perseverance, sharing that Johnson was a champion tennis player for three decades until back fusion surgery made it difficult for him to cover a tennis court. “When he got out of shape and was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, Dick found a treatment program that helped him manage diet, lose weight and avoid insulin shots. But he needed a way to stay motivated to exercise,” Riker said. “The sport of pickleball suited him with its smaller court size, and it provided the same level of workout as tennis had been. He was back on track.”
In only five years, Johnson twice medaled in all seven recognized national and world pickleball championships in the same year, including the National Senior Games. He’s racked up close to 200 medals – mostly gold – in these majors and more than 90 tournaments across the country, including Idaho Senior Games.
However, an emotional Johnson told the assembled athletes, “I am most honored by this because it’s about something more than just the medals,” he said. “The philosophy of the Senior Games is all about good health, win or lose. I was on a down turn when I found Senior Games and pickleball. I literally believe that pickleball saved my life.”
The program generated several media stories, including a news story shown on KTVB Channel 7 (NBC) and a nice feature in The Idaho Press-Tribune, among others. Attracting media attention is just one of the goals of our Personal Best state visits, but equally important is to recognize and inspire all of the athletes in attendance. “You know, we have to pick one as an example, and we had many stories to choose from,” Riker said. “But the reality is that all of you exhibit the same pursuit of your own Personal Best, and each of you is an example to others, showing the way to enjoy an active and full life.”
2018 marks the 29th year that Idaho Senior Games has been offering fitness, fun and fellowship, and all of those attributes were on full display when competition began with swimming the next day and at other competitions held on the first weekend of the event. With registrations approaching 700, this will be ISG’s largest games in their history. As always at Senior Games events, Riker and NSGA staffer Del Moon observed some of the most positive-minded and healthy seniors to be found anywhere during the visit. Above we found Dick Johnson and his wife Lawana enjoying table tennis doubles play. Here’s a few others of the many we met:
You just can’t stop 58-year-old swimmer Blake Olson of Boise. No, really, he wouldn’t stop in his 200 meter freestyle event, launching back for another lap after he had actually already finished. When the crowd finally got his attention at the other turn, he merely grinned and flexed his guns. Yeah, you meant to do that Blake!
Idaho attracts many out-of-state athletes with Idaho connections. Keith Murry, 60 (left) and brother Craig, 57, have family in Idaho, so Keith came from northern Virginia and Craig flew up from San Rafeal, California to enjoy a swim meet reunion. Keith has competed in the last four National Senior Games and plans to swim in five state Games this year. Craig also qualified and thinks he can make the hop over to Albuquerque next June because doing this with his brother was too much fun.
We met another traveling athlete with a special passion at the 5K and 40K cycling events out on the mesa. Bonnie Parrish-Kell not only cycles and race walks, she also coordinates the annual triathlon for the Nevada Senior Games, and is also the self-described “Publisher and Chief Motivational Diva” for SlowPokeDivas, an online resource of health and fitness information and inspiration for women primarily over 40, out of shape or overweight to fully enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle and outdoor sports. “Wait for me, I’ll probably be the last one in,” she joked before the road race. Posing with Bonnie is 83-year-old John Crowely of nearby Nampa, Idaho, the oldest cyclist in the event. John showed great stamina and finished both events with a smile. “I’m a middle-of-the-pack guy, but I’m here for the fun and to challenge myself.” Bring that smile to Albuquerque, John!
Table Tennis medalists and organizers celebrate another great eventWe cannot end this blog without noting that the Idaho Senior Games is fortunate to have an engaged board of directors and an able coordinator in Mike Thornton. We also have to express a big “Wow!” about our impression of Boise. It has seen explosive growth over the past decade, and the result is a friendly and vibrant community that is looking forward with pride while preserving its heritage. No wonder “the City of Trees” and the natural beauty of the state has made it a “hot potato” for tourism!