At 88, Ken Long credits his passion and energy for basketball and race walking to the teammates and buddies he’s met over nearly four decades competing in the Wake County Senior Games.
As he prepares for the 2016 Senior Games in April in arenas across the county, Long reminds me it’s OK to combine fitness with friendship and fun.
“I won’t do anything on my own,” he said. “My longevity is due to the care of the people expecting me there.
“And they expect you to show up once you get to the games,” he continued, signaling an Olympic-like spirit. “It makes you train all year to get ready for the next competition.”
Long, who joined the North Carolina Roadrunners Club in 1979, echoes health and aging experts who tout exercise – of body, mind and spirit – as a top predictor of how well and how long we live. The slogan for this year’s Wake County Senior Games is “Don’t Quit ... Stay Fit.”
A kick-off event for the games will be Feb. 23 at Crabtree Valley Mall, and the event will feature performances and corn hole, a Senior Games event. Early-bird registration ends March 1, and the final deadline to register is March 10.
Competitors in the Wake County Senior Games and its Silver Arts non-athletic events must be at least 55 years old, and participants must have lived in the county at least three months. Competitions group the same gender and age, in five-year increments.
Events include basketball, track and field, golf, swimming, tennis, billiards, horseshoes, cycling, tennis, table tennis, softball and bowling. Pickleball – a mix of badminton, tennis and table tennis – is all the rage.
SilverArts, exclusive to the North Carolina Senior Games, offers local and state competitions in literary, visual, heritage and performing arts. That includes dancing, singing, painting, drawing, writing poetry or short stories, comedy, dramatic readings, basket weaving, wood carving, quilting, photography and more.
“This is the most creative time in a lot of people’s lives – not just physical, but mental and artistic as well,” said Torrey Blackmar, a recreation manager for the town of Garner who coordinates the Wake County Silver Arts Follies Show. “Active of mind is just as healthy as active of body.”
Winners qualify to compete in state competitions with a chance to compete in the National Senior Games, held every two years across the country.
Long has competed in 11 nationals, including the first one in 1987 among about 2,000 competitors in St. Louis. The event has since grown to include up to 12,000 competitors – and he said he’s won gold.
Marilyn Asay, president of the Wake County Senior Games, said people should not stop doing what they love simply because they get older.
“Clearly, activity and creativity, socializing as a team, a dance group or a music group – all of those things, and painting and writing and basket weaving, are important to quality of life,” Asay said. “You can keep on and on.”
As the director of adult programs for the city of Raleigh, Todd Riddick agrees.
“We want people to see their activity never has to stop,” he said. “We know we can get more people involved and we could see the numbers double this year for Senior Games.”
Just ask Long, who retired from the North Carolina Real Estate Commission.
“It’s one of the best things that happened to me,” he said. “It’s what’s kept me going. I’m 88 years old and I’m doing fine.”
Find out more
For more information or to register for the Wake County Senior Games, go to www.wcseniorgames.org.