For four years, Cary resident Dewey Taylor rode a pink bike that belonged to his daughter, Elise Atkins.
Taylor, 86, wanted to exercise and thought cycling would work for him. Atkins was a cyclist herself and turned over her old equipment to get her dad started.
“The first hill I rode, I had to push up, but it’s gotten easier and easier,” he said.
Taylor finally graduated to his own bike – which is free of the color pink and a better size for him – in time for the 30th annual North Carolina Senior Games, which are competitive athletic and artistic events, both state or nationwide.
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Data-driven results show that participants meet more new people and stay healthier than those who don’t take part.
Atkins, who is 56 and among the younger crop of competitors, said she picked up cycling about 10 years ago after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I knew I needed to keep exercising and I don’t like to run,” she said.
She and a friend started, her dad got involved and it snowballed into a neighborhood cycling group.
Atkins and Taylor’s reasons for joining are common among the more than 3,000 senior athletes and artists across North Carolina who participate in the games and other activities, said Lynn Harrell, N.C. Senior Games associate director.
During the weekend, the cycling event was held at the N.C. Highway Patrol Training and Driving Facility in Raleigh.
There were also table tennis and regular tennis events in and around Raleigh the same day.
This year’s games started with a softball tournament in Raleigh in early September. It will continue into October with bocce and cornhole hosted in Clayton Oct. 7-8 and golf in Winston-Salem the same weekend.
The games will end in Greenville with a basketball tournament Oct. 17-19.
The purpose of the games, Harrell said, is to keep senior citizens involved, social and active throughout the year. Athletes are on a year-round schedule with which they can train and participate in local games to qualify for state finals. Every two years, including this year, participants compete at the state level to qualify for the national senior games.
“They’re staying active instead of sitting down and knitting,” Harrell said. “Keeping the body active keeps the mind active.”
Research supports games
The program cites four “F-words” as motivation for participants who can range in age from 50 to 100-plus: Fun, fitness, family and fellowship.
North Carolina’s oldest athletes are 88 this year.
In addition to athletic events, the N.C. Senior Games hosts arts competitions. Participants can enter original works of art in several categories as part of the SilverArts program.
It allows even more senior citizens get involved with the games, including residents of assisted living facilities.
Harrell said one facility in Salisbury had more than 200 residents participate in the SilverArts program. Even though it’s not necessarily a physical event (participants can enter into a dance category through SilverArts), it still allows social interaction, a key to overall wellness, Harrell said.
The N.C. Senior Games teams up with the N.C. State Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management to study how the games affect participants’ health and well-being.
“What we see with our athletes and our artists ... (is that) their perceived health status, which we know is a good measure of health status, is better than the average person that age,” she said.
The most recent research available on the Senior Games website from 2011 used self-reported data. Participants said the games helped them meet new people, as well as aiding physical strength, energy levels and heart and lung function.
Best part is the finish line
Although the state games can send winners to the nationals, there isn’t an emphasis on competition. Atkins and Taylor like it like that. They’d rather just be there to support each other.
“I think having people do it with you to give you support (is good),” Taylor said. Although he only participated in the first race, he stayed to watch Atkins finish the 5K and 10K races.
Next year, Atkins said she wants to try different events, like basketball. Taylor said he’ll stick to cycling.
Taylor and Atkins don’t really train, they said, although they spend a lot of time cycling for fun. Every Labor Day, the family goes to Damascus, Va., to ride the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail, which takes them through the mountains to the North Carolina-Virginia border.
But even as regular cyclists, Taylor said his favorite part of riding in the games is simple.
“The finish line,” he said.