What are some moments from past games that stick with you?
We had a woman who was fascinating back in the early years. She became the first blind teacher in Long Beach, Calif. After she retired, her doctor told her, “I am not going to see you next year; your health is in such poor condition.” He suggested she start swimming, but this woman did not know how to swim. She then learned to swim. She then participated in the California Senior games and then qualified [for the National Senior Games]. We have a scholarship fund where an individual is selected to come and we defray costs and that fund brought her to the games. She was so moved that she started her own foundation to help other seniors. That’s where the endless stuff just keeps spinning off. That story is just the tip of the iceberg, and she has impacted so many people.
What about this year’s games in Birmingham is exciting?
With Birmingham, one thing that is good is we try to create a synergy of proximity of events because the seniors like to watch others competing and enjoy this human spirit of what life is like. From the airport, it’s not even a 10-minute ride to the convention center. Six of 19 sports are contested there. We have almost half of our sports all within a 5-mile radius. It creates an excitement because all of those folks are around and it creates a buzz and then everyone feels good about it.
What has contributed to the event’s long-term success?
I think the idea is that we have to look at such a broad brush of things. We are trying to assess what is in the mind of a 50-year-old and how are they assessing things differently from an 80-year-old? Some participants still want print and paper materials, some want electronic options. We have to be flexible in trying to understand where people are in their difference, and then we have the fact that we have novice athletes where people have never done this sport until they were 60 or 65, and then you have folks who have played tennis their entire life. We have to take into consideration how we are trying to appeal to novice, elite, the different genders and the different age groups.
Photo credits: Thomas Coiner