30th Anniversary National Senior Games convene in Birmingham

30th Anniversary National Senior Games convene in Birmingham
Archery is one of many events in the 2017 National Senior Games currently underway in Birmingham. (Thomas Coiner)

Thirty years is a long time. So it makes sense for the National Senior Games, which kicked off two weeks of competition in Birmingham on Friday night, to celebrate three decades of “fitness, fun and fellowship” at its 30th anniversary gathering.

While people who were born 30 years ago may be considered too old for many sports competitions, they are too young to compete in the 2017 National Senior Games.

The multisport competition is held every two years for men and women age 50 and older. During the course of these games, more than 10,500 athletes are competing in 800-plus events.

Most of the 19 medal sports are familiar ones for athletes of all ages: archery, basketball, track and field, and triathlon, among others. Some may be more associated with an older population, such as shuffleboard or horseshoes.

One sport that may not be as familiar to the public is pickleball. Invented 50 years ago, the sport contains elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It is one of the fastest-growing sports in America today.

Kathleen Brundo was introduced to the sport by her “other half” three or four years ago. The California resident had lost a great deal of weight and found the sport to be something they could enjoy together as a couple while she continued to get fit. “I never played any kind of racquet sport before this,” she admitted, “but it’s fun.”

Brundo may have picked up the sport relatively late in life for an athlete, but she is now a sponsored player competing in major tournaments. “I’m not old,” she laughed. “It’s all a state of mind.

“Everyone I’ve met in the sport is nice,” she added.

One person she has met through the sport is her doubles partner for these games. While it was possible to qualify with a partner, athletes in the doubles pickleball competition could also choose to come to the games and be matched with someone. Brundo is playing with Jackie Ebner from Rochester, New York.

“Pickleball is better than racquetball, tennis or golf,” Ebner said. “Everyone I’ve introduced to the sport loves it. Now it’s popping up everywhere.”

Both women were visiting Alabama for the first time. “We love Birmingham!” said Ebner. “We’re spending money like crazy.”

The games are proving to be an economic boon for the city.

“Birmingham’s hospitality sector is the immediate economic beneficiary of the Senior Games, but indirectly, we all benefit by having the opportunity to showcase our community to a diverse national audience,” said Rick Davis, senior vice president of economic development at the Birmingham Business Alliance.

“Thousands of athletes and fans will be at sporting events all over the region in the next two weeks, traveling our roads, eating at our restaurants and enjoying all Birmingham has to offer,’’ he said. “We are fortunate to have the infrastructure in place to accommodate unique and diverse sporting events like the Senior Games and, in 2021, the World Games, where Birmingham will be in an international spotlight.”

The games kicked off at an outdoor ceremony Friday, which ended with the arrival of a torch and lighting of a cauldron, followed by fireworks. The games are sponsored by Humana Inc., which has been promoting lifelong wellness with its Humana Game Changer program that profiles Senior Games athletes from around the country.

“We’re excited to embark on our 10th year as presenting sponsor of the National Senior Games, and we’re honored to bring attention to the athletes who defy the odds and continue to live an active and healthy lifestyle,” said Humana Chief Consumer Officer Jody Bilney. “Through their hard work and dedication to their sports, Senior Games athletes deliver hope, motivation and inspiration to all.”

Attendance at the games is free. In addition to the competitions, the public may visit the Village and Health and Wellness Expo at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex to enjoy exhibits, activities and entertainment.

On Friday, June 9, the Celebration of Athletes will begin at 7 p.m. in the Legacy Arena at the BJCC. This is a combination opening and closing ceremony held in the middle of the event schedule to celebrate the achievements of the participants. The program includes a Parade of Athletes, a minidocumentary video and other 30th anniversary recognition.

For a complete schedule and locations of various competitions, visit NSGA.com.

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