Bridge is for the weak: 6 unlikely senior sports
From basketball grannies to seniors who surf, the silver set is redefining the concept of aging.
Thu, May 08, 2014 at 12:01 PM
Golf. Shuffleboard. Water aerobics. Pickleball. Ballroom dancing. Prancercizing. You get the picture.
While all of the above athletic activities are fantastic methods of keeping folks of a certain age – we’re mostly talking about the 55-and-over crowd – fit and on their feet, many active seniors have taken to eschewing these stereotypical “old people sports.” Instead, these revved-up and robust retirees are opting to keep their heart rates and their spirits high by partaking in activities, some competitive, normally associated with high school seniors, not AARP magazine subscribers.
In the spirit of aging in a graceful but feisty manner, we’ve rounded up six somewhat unlikely sports and athletic activities that have a steady following amongst grandpas, golden-agers and grey-hairs with fires in their bellies. Sure, it’s all a bit funny and cute (look at that grandma dribbling a basketball!). But when it comes down to it, these elderly athletes are driven by camaraderie, a strong constitution and an unwavering competitive spirit — and they are nothing less than inspiring. We applaud them – and frankly, we are somewhat intimidated.
Do you know – or are you – a mature individual who enjoys a sport that’s generally associated with younger people? Barefoot waterskiing? Fencing? Mountain biking? Triathlon? Tell us about it in the comments section. Has this sport been a lifelong passion? Or is it something that you picked up in your later years as a means of staying active?
Competitive archery has been experiencing something of a renaissance as of late among the tween demographic thanks to a certain young sharpshooter named Katniss Everdeen. But outside of YA novel heroines, archery has long maintained a devoted and skilled following that’s decidedly more “The Golden Girls” than “The Hunger Games” in flavor.
Although a relatively stationary sport with a bit of walking involved, archery can also be an extremely demanding activity that requires keen balance, hand-eye coordination and mental focus as well as excellent upper body strength. Alongside the usual suspects – horseshoes, shuffleboard, golf, etc. – you’ll find archery to be among the most popular sports at the National Senior Games, the Huntsman World Senior Games and other national and statewide senior sporting competitions. But really, how awesome would it be to be able to brag around the water cooler that your nana scored gold in freestyle archery, women’s 70 to 74 division? Pretty freaking awesome.
If you ask us, there’s nothing that can bring a smile to one’s face quicker than watching a bunch of sweaty old codgers in high-tops shooting hoops in a local gym. But competitive basketball isn’t just for elderly fellas. No, no, no. Just ask any of the fierce ladies the belong to the Granny Basketball League – “A gentle game for women of a certain age” – in which players must be 50-plus and “be able to sustain moderate physical activity for several minutes without collapsing.” Also, exposed skin is strictly forbidden – it’s considered a technical foul – within the Granny Basketball League as players must don uniforms that resemble 1920s-era women’s basketball attire: white blouses, black bloomers, stockings and tennis shoes (hats, scarves, flowers and other accessories are optional).
Before you spend the rest of the afternoon watching the Faribault Hotshots and the Dubuque Courtside Cuties tear it up six-on-six style, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the official Granny Anthem, a loving tribute to past coaches and high school teammates – “may the games and memories live on.”
Think that cheerleading has a distinct expiration date? Think again, as there are more than a few high-spirited senior cheer squads out there ready to pull out all the stops and bring it on … and sit down to gab and unwind around a cheesecake afterwards. Perhaps the most visible – and fabulous – cheer squad open to “mature” team members is the Poms, a group hailing from the snowbird-heavy Phoenix suburb of Sun City. Founded in 1979, the Sun City Poms are something of a national treasure: a group of sequin-bedazzled gals – all 55-and-over with the oldest member, as of 2013, being 83 – that travels across the country to perform at parades, pep rallies, conventions, fundraisers and, yep, sporting events. “Performing with spunk and energy of their youths, these ladies are having the time of their lives while sharing positive aspects of retirement and aging, and shattering conventional images of ‘senior citizens,’ ” reads the Poms website.
Aside from the age requirement, golden girls looking to join the illustrious ranks of the Poms must demonstrate “dance skills of rhythm, agility, poise, energy, and showmanship for performing” while acrobatics – yes, some members do headstands, pinwheels and splits – and baton-twirling are considered a “plus.” Click here to view photographer Todd Anthony’s stunning portraits of the preternaturally peppy Sun City Poms.
It would appear that curling, the strategy-centric Canadian import that unfailingly garners plenty of wide-eyed media attention each time that the Winter Olympics roll around, is extremely popular amongst the “Cocoon” crowd. This shouldn’t come as a terribly huge surprise as curling is decidedly just a touch more sedate than other sports played on ice. Plus, curling is closely related to grandpa-friendly sports like shuffleboard and boules. But when it comes down to it – and we’re looking at you, non-Canadians – how many curlers of “a certain age” do you know?
This April, the World Senior Men’s and Women’s Curling Championships will be held at the Ice Bowl in bustling Dumfries, Scotland, in tandem with the World Mixed Doubles. Now in its 14th year, the highly anticipated annual event is open to teams composed of players who “must not be less than 50 years of age by the end of the 30th day of June of the year immediately preceding the year in which the WSCC is to take place.” Got that? Over 30 teams from across the world – Austria to Australia and everywhere in between including, yes, the United States – will be donning stretchy pants and special sneakers for the event, the first to be held in Scotland, the ancestral home of curling, since 2005. Will homegrown teams take either of the top spots or will feisty, broom-wielding seniors from Canada once again dominate in both men’s and women’s championship events as they did in 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013?
When used in the same sentence as senior citizen, the word “surfing” generally conjures up an image of a room in Lake Havasu filled with exasperated grannies enrolled in a retirement community-sponsored Internet literacy course – you know, learning how to safely “surf the Web” and smother you with virtual kisses on Facebook.
But just as many seniors are learning new surfing skills, some are also retraining old ones in a non-technology sense: they’re catching seriously gnarly waves along with surfers less than half their age. Sure, surfing may qualify as an “extreme” senior activity (compared to bridge or badminton, at least), but there’s always the chance you’ll catch a grey-haired surf god or goddess hanging ten (or five) at a beach near you. Described as a “totally fresh look at successful aging,” David L. Brown’s “Surfing For Life” (2001) is an inspiring and critically acclaimed documentary that profiles several lifelong surfers who have kept it up well into their golden years (in a couple of cases, their 90s). Call them crazy, youth-obsessed or out of their minds – but whatever you do, don’t call them kooks.
Is your wheelchair-bound gramps the undisputed beach ball volleyball champ of his retirement community? Get him pumped up for his next recreation room showdown with this high-energy video clip of Canada and the U.S. going at it during the 2009 Global Cup – the World Senior Volleyball Championships. An annual event presented by the Huntsman World Senior Games (Hyland’s Homeopathic Leg Cramps is a sponsor, natch) the Global Cup is described as “an invitation only, true world-championship tournament where the teams hale [sic] from around the world and represent their country on the court.”
Seriously, these guys – plenty of grunting silver foxes wearing knee braces – can move quicker on the court than most high school seniors that we know. Consider us inspired.
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