The National Senior Games is the largest multi-sport qualifying event in the world. It’s even bigger than the Olympics. Nearly 12,000 athletes arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in July, 2023 to compete in more than 20 sports, but in truth this event is about so much more than athletics.
The 2023 Games were the third edition that Growing Bolder has covered. The event was another reminder of the perfect synergy that exists between the Growing Bolder ethos and the mentality of senior athletes. We don’t go to the games to report results. We’re focused on the ordinary people overcoming the setbacks of life, the challenges of aging that we all face if we’re lucky enough to live long enough. We tell the stories of family and friendship, resilience, and overcoming the dangerous and demeaning stereotypes of older adults.
We met so many inspirational athletes in Pittsburgh who all left us with the same takeaway: more is possible for all of us. But more is not guaranteed. You have to work for it, but there are countless communities and teams full of like- minded men and women who will support and encourage you on your journey. It may be sports, or it may be some other form of activity that lights your fire, but the key is to get up and keep moving.
We could fill several magazines full of the stories from the 2023 National Senior Games, but here are a few of our favorites:
Local legend Jack Eckenrode was the talk of the town for the duration of the games. The 95-year-old Pittsburgh native was honored as the final flame bearer, lighting the cauldron to open the Games, and becoming the oldest person ever to complete the 20K cycling race in National Senior Games history.
The National Senior Games are really the International Senior Games, with teams from both Canada and Barbados participating. Team Barbados, an athletic and social club whose motto is “healthier, fitter, stronger,” has been participating in the Games since 2005. They focus on camaraderie, “aging beautifully” through activity, and showing others that they can do more than they think they can. “Believe, and you will achieve,” team member Angela Holder said.
Larry DeLucas is a multi-sport athlete whose talents are literally out of this world. He is a scientist who flew aboard a NASA space shuttle in 1992 and is the only person in history to say he’s dunked a basketball in outer space. His bowling and cornhole skills are pretty good, but his perspective on life is even better, something he credits to his time in space. “You look at the world. We’re all so close together. We have to find a way to live together,” DeLucas said.
Janet Rushmere is a 90-year-old who credits her health and happiness to swimming and good friends. When the National Senior Games came to Pittsburgh, Janet couldn’t resist entering to see how she stacked up against others her age. She didn’t just win, she set records in the 50m and 100m freestyle events!
The honor of the community or city with the most athletes at the 2023 National Senior Games goes to The Villages, Florida. They sent more than 160 athletes to Pittsburgh, taking home over 70 medals while sharing the impact a healthy lifestyle and social engagement can have on adults over 50, thanks to the countless amenities available in their hometown.
Residents of The Villages have access to nearly 250 pickleball courts, 50 golf courses, more than 110 swimming pools, and the ability to participate in hundreds of sports, clubs and activities at nearly 100 different recreation centers. It allows them to stay in shape year- round, while also staying in touch with their neighbors and community.
“It’s a place where you’ve got so many different activities, you could try something different each month,” Judy Leach, a 71-year-old table tennis player said. “I picked table tennis back up as a sport when I came to The Villages three
years ago, after not having played it for 50 years.” “In The Villages, you just meet your neighbors, then you start playing these sports and suddenly you have this tight little group that keeps expanding. They’re your best friends,” Marla Boyer, a 70-year-old volleyball player said. “My teammates are as close to me as my
classmates that I grew up with. They’re family.” “Swimming is a great sport, and you meet such great people in The Villages. We all cheer for each other because we’re all in the same boat, we just love what we’re doing,” Martin Schenk, an 81-year-old swimmer said. “We just keep working out and try to have a good attitude, which isn’t hard to do [when you live in The Villages.”] You can watch all of these stories and more at GrowingBolder.com/NSGA.
These athletes are just a sample of the thousands of like-minded adults who inspire us all to take control of our health and our lifestyle. It’s more than an event. It’s part of a movement. One that you can join in and change your life. The National Senior Games community will reconvene in 2025 in Des Moines, Iowa. Find out more at NSGA.com
This article is featured in the Fall 2023 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.