As my friends and family are aware, I am an avid sports fan. I can speak fluently about the teams I root for and the great sports moments I have witnessed. Whether it’s going to the World Series with my father at Yankee Stadium or watching football with friends, I sometimes feel like I am an encyclopedia of sports knowledge. That is why I was recently excited to learn about the National Senior Games. The National Senior Games are a sports competition for people 50 and older. Like the Olympics, various athletic contests are conducted, ranging from swimming, basketball, bowling, archery, badminton, cycling, golf, horseshoes, pickleball, softball, track and field, etc. The games first started in 1987 in St. Louis, Missouri, with 2,500 people competing. Since then, the games have been held every other year, most recently in 2019, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where over 13,000 people competed.
Throughout the history of the games, competition amongst aging Americans have brought us success stories that have been both heartwarming and remarkable. One of the greatest athletic achievements during the games’ history belongs to Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins. Hawkins, at the ages of 101 and 103, competed in the 100 meter dash. She finished in 39.62 seconds at 101, and 6 seconds slower at 103. To put this feat into perspective, 100 meters is 109 yards, which is longer than a football field. While sports conversations have produced great debate amongst friends and colleagues, I think we can all agree at 103, her increase in time is understandable. In order to stay in shape Hawkins trains on the street by her house. However, as she told the New York Times, by her own admission, “As I get older, I feel like I only have so many 100-yard dashes left, and I don’t want to waste them in practice.” Amazingly, she only got into running at age 100, because she previously participated at the games as a competitive biker. Sports have always provided a great outlet for individual accomplishments, I think it’s fair to say none more so than Hawkins’ participation at the National Senior Games.
The National Senior Games also provides a venue for rivalries to be renewed. In the 1970s, Bob Shannon and Jeff Johanson, both swam for competing high schools in the San Francisco area. They would compete against each other in medleys and relays and eventually at the College of San Mateo, where both were teammates on the water polo team. As luck would have it, they ran into and competed against each other at the last National Senior Games. According to the National Senior Games Association, Shannon said, “Besides going for my personal best, I’m now thinking, ‘It’s on!’ There’s no way he’s beating me in the 50 backstroke, and I knew he was thinking he would beat me in the breaststroke.” As it turns out, Bob beat Jeff in the backstroke and Jeff bested Bob in the breaststroke. Both also left the games with some additional accomplishments. Bob beat his swim time from high school, and Jeff won the silver medal in the 200 yard breaststroke.
The National Senior Games has provided countless more inspirational stories. Older Americans participating in these competitions have used sports as a motivational vehicle to rebound from injuries, mourn the loss of a loved one or provide an outlet for a passion project during retirement. Fortunately, America is taking notice with ESPN, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and CNN all having covered the games.
While writing the article, I couldn’t help but notice that softball was on their list of participating sports. As someone who plays softball throughout the spring and summer, I can’t help but wonder if I might be fortunate enough to play in the National Senior Games down the road. While I don’t think my athletic feats will ever rise to the level of Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins, I wouldn’t mind trying my luck someday!
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
If someone asked you what your favorite song is, I am sure you would have an answer. You may have to say there are several and want to offer a favorite band or genre.
For me, I am particularly taken with “The Wheels on the Bus,” because it is a favorite of my grandson. It is also one he is singing to his new baby sister. Pediatricians tell new moms that singing to their newborn is one of the best ways to introduce language.
Prayers are songs. A particular tune connects us to the High Holidays or Sabbath service. Singing the words aloud is the delivery system for our prayers. As families gather on Friday night, they welcome the Sabbath with “Shalom Aleichem.” No matter where you may go in your travels, you will usually find something familiar in the prayers in synagogues around the world.
Music was used by the Daniel Pearl Foundation in response to the 2002 kidnapping and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl by terrorists in Pakistan. The Foundation created Daniel Pearl World Music Days because of his love of music and asked people to remember him by sharing music during the month of October in honor of his birthday. You can post a concert or program to their calendar at www.danielpearlmusicdays.org.
Teams have their theme or fight song. Schools have their school song. Couples have “their song,” mine is Chicago’s “Color My World,” and Broadway musical numbers become ingrained in our culture as the lyrics become part of our lexicon. Radio stations have carved out music decades for their specialty, 50s, 90s, classics or a combination of it all, can be found at Sirius XM Radio. Public television brings us the groups of 50s and 60s for reunion concerts. Nostalgia floods our brains and the music transports us back to the days of when that song was new. We marvel at how well they can still hold the notes, and notice the changes as well. We are sad when singers announce farewell tours, recognizing that their health has impacted their ability to perform, or they just do not want to have to do it anymore.
Before there were television shows called “Name That Tune” or “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” there was party game with a music theme. The next time you have a group together try it as an ice breaker. People are divided into teams and themes for the songs are announced. Groups compete to name them. The team naming the most songs wins. Song categories such as girl names, boy names, colors, geographic locations are all possibilities. Try playing without using the internet as a real challenge.
As we get close to the preparations for Passover for our family and group Seders, we will be checking to make sure we have the song sheets and Hagadahs for the family favorites. The inclusion of these traditional medleys, are all part of the experience. This is also the time to introduce something new. There are many songs with Pesach content written to the tune of a popular song. In our house, it is “The Ballad of the Four Sons,” which is sung to the tune of “My Darling Clementine,” that keeps its honored place after the Four Questions are sung.
Popular Hebrew songs find their way into the international audience. In the spring of 1967, “Jerusalem of Gold (Yerushalayim shel Zahav)” was written by Naomi Shemer, a musician and poet at the request of the mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek for the Israeli Song Festival. After the Six Day War that June, it became an unofficial anthem, expressing how Jews felt after Jerusalem was reunified, whether they lived in Israel or the Diaspora.
If Israel has sent a team to the Olympic Games we hope that we will hear “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem played on this international stage. We were angry to learn that Israelis at a competition held in Abu Dabi, UAE, were not treated equally. Tal Flicker, the winner of a gold medal in Judo, received his medal without the flag of Israel raised or “Hatikvah” played, but the world saw him singing it to himself on the podium.
Please share how music has impacted your life. You can reach us at the B’nai B’rith Center for Jewish Identity at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai brith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. This June will mark her 38th anniversary at B'nai B'rith. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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