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.
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