Health benefits abound when seniors compete.
Once known as the Senior Olympics, the Oklahoma Senior Games provide opportunities for athletes 50 and over to compete in 19 sports, all while keeping fit and feeling younger than their years might indicate.
Tulsan Barry Kinsey, 85, is no stranger to the winner’s podium. He has won national medals in tennis doubles with Frank Ward, including gold in 2015.
“I play tennis three or four times a week,” Kinsey says, “and I make sure to lift weights at the club. I’m a lifelong athlete and played a lot of baseball and slow-pitch softball when I was younger.” On top of that, Kinsey volunteers and mentors. “Physical fitness is also about the things you do for your mind, and for me that is volunteering for Rebuilding Tulsa. We build houses and do repair work for the elderly and disabled. I’ve also spent a lot of time with young athletes, mentoring them. It was my pleasure to serve as a high school state tennis championship referee and I was voted as Oklahoma State Tennis Referee of the Year.”
Barbara Mock of Edmond, 66, says tennis prepared her for her more recent accomplishment as a pickleball champion, a sport she says seniors can play well into their elder years.
“Pickleball is similar to tennis but is played on a 20-foot by 44-foot court with a paddle and a wiffleball,” Mock says. “In our Greater OKC Pickleball Club, we have 400 members as young as 12 and as old as 87. My brother pestered me until I tried pickleball, and now I find it is fun exercise for all ages. My doctor is happy about the changes he has seen in my physical condition and recommends that I continue.”
Kinsey, a professor of health and sociology of medicine at the University of Tulsa, says that physical exercise, whatever form is chosen, is extremely beneficial for physical, social and mental health.
“It is just so important for people to stay active,” Kinsey says. “For me, tennis is great because it is also a social game. I’m a strong believer in all things in moderation, a balanced diet and staying hydrated as heat-related injury and illness are extremely dangerous.”
In the Senior Games, athletes compete within their own five-year age group, such as 50-54 and 55-59, says Kathleen Fitzgerald, director of the games. The games’ purpose is to qualify athletes for the national competition held every other summer. Participants who place in the top four of their state events may enter the National Senior Games in June 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama.
“Training is everything in terms of winning medals but has even more long-term benefits,” Fitzgerald says. “By participating in physical activities, athletes are practicing preventive medicine and protecting their health. Activity reduces stress and pumps much needed oxygen to every part of the body. In addition, friendships are formed, which contribute to social and emotional health. Many athletes focus on the competition and fail to realize that the real work that contributes to their success on the field, court or pool was made the days and hours of practice they did in preparation for their event.”
Fitzgerald encourages seniors to use the Senior Games as a resource and points to okseniorgames.com for related information. Event locations are divided between the Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas.