In June, Willow Valley Communities sent 16 senior athletes to the National Senior Games in Birmingham, Alabama. The National Senior Games are held every two years and involves over 10,000 athletes from all 50 states. For many years it has been a tradition at Willow Valley to support our athletes and cover most of their expenses. This is all part of Willow Valley’s commitment to promoting an active lifestyle for residents.
This year was my first year of participating in the Senior Games and it was an absolutely wonderful experience. All the athletes, including one team member, had to qualify and finish in the top 4 in their respective age group at the Pennsylvania State Games, which are held the year before the National Senior Games. We had athletes qualify and compete in tennis, bowling, table tennis, badminton, pickleball, swimming, track and field, triathlon, and shuffleboard.
Willow Valley staff members Pam Schorr and Jessie Shober handled all the arrangements and logistics. What a top-notch job they did making life easier for the athletes so they could concentrate on their events. I never fail to be impressed by the quality of team members here at Willow Valley.
There were so many fond memories I have of the Games. Trying to get to other events and support those athletes in other sports was important. I can still remember Pam and Jessie, along with our other athletes, cheering on team member Roger Harvey as he won a silver medal in bowling. It was also exciting for us to cheer on my good friend, Irmi Nelson, as she won two bronze medals in table tennis. This was her second National Senior Games and I’m sure her previous experience helped her a great deal.
Five of our athletes, including myself, were involved in badminton. All of us, along with our other athletes, were cheering the badminton players on. Despite only have been playing for a year or two, and playing against much more experienced opponents, we had some nice victories in that sport, collecting 7 ribbons for finishing 4th through 8th place. Our highlight, however, was 85 year old Ed Burnap, who has been playing the sport for 65 years and coaches our group of badminton players. He took a gold medal against some very good players. Ed’s win may not elevate Willow Valley to national powerhouse status in badminton, but to all the younger players his win inspired us all to continue to work hard, to practice, and improve.
Although everyone would like to win, the comradery and experience of the games was far more important. My first match in men’s singles pool play was against the eventual silver medal winner in my age group. Despite having far more experience than me, we became good friends for the remainder of the tournament. He pointed out how winning and losing was not the most important aspect of the Games, which really relaxed me and he continued to encourage me for the rest of the tournament. Our athletes were also able to reconnect with the friends we made competing a year earlier at the Pennsylvania State Games. We continued to support our Pennsylvania friends for the remainder of the Games.
The sportsmanship displayed at the games showed what sport should be like. Even during competition there were laughs and acknowledgement of good plays by your opponent. Between matches, everyone got to know each other and enjoy the friendship of all the competitors. At the end of the day, our Willow Valley athletes would go out for dinner and relive our day and get to know our fellow residents a little better. After our return, it was also very nice to get the congratulations, no matter how we did, from fellow Willow Valley residents who followed our progress at the Games.
I know our athletes put in a tremendous amount of time training and practicing beforehand and it showed. Here were our medal winners:
Gold – Ed Burnap (badminton)
Silver – Roger Harvey (bowling) & Gene George (shuffleboard)
Bronze – Bob Locke (swimming), Janet Rushmere (2 in swimming) & Irmi Nelson (2 in
Our athletes also took home 17 ribbons for finishing 4th-8th place in various sports. Great job!
By Dale Johnson
Dale Johnson and his wife Christine moved to Willow Valley Communities from Towson, MD in 2015. Dale taught geography at Towson University, while Christine was a director of human resources with McCormick & Co. the international spice company.