U.S. seniors to compete in Geri Olympics

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Seven U.S. athletes are gearing up for the 2008 Olympics—the Geri Olympics, that is.

This Oct. 9-12, Prague will play host to the fourth annual international games for the senior set. Seven residents of two West Virginia nursing homes—Cedar Ridge Nursing and Rehabilitation in Sissonville, and Heartland of Charleston—will represent the United States against the Czech Republic.

It is the first time that the U.S. will participate in the Czech games.

“I think it sends a clear message to the community that people don’t go to nursing homes to die and that spirit and quality of life are really involved with being an active liver,” said Dr. Ted Muilenburg, director of the U.S. team. “Sports is the venue, but the theme is we’re going to live all of our life.”

The residents’ participation has made waves across the state. Gov. Joe Manchin III (D) has challenged the team to bring home the gold. The team hopes to deliver.

"We have seven great residents that are really excited, that really are going for the gold for the U.S.," Muilenburg said.

The seven U.S. athletes, some of whom are wheelchair-bound, span ages 63 to 80. Team captain Carol Tulliver is a double amputee.

“The team captain has discovered her athleticism at the age of 60,” Muilenburg noted.

Events will include basketball, bowling, horseshoe throwing and beanbag tossing. A special group will compete in wheelchair races. Accompanying the athletes will be an entourage of caregivers, family members and medical professionals. A total of 28 people are going from the U.S.—aged 2 to 80. The group will be gone a week.

The games are a partnership between West Virginia State University, where Muilenburg is a professor of therapeutic recreation and leisure studies, and Charles University, where Muilenburg took a sabbatical earlier in his career. Muilenburg founded the Geri Olympics in West Virginia more than 20 years ago. The U.S. event helped inspire its European counterpart, which Muilenburg hopes will expand to include other countries.

The games go to show it is never too late. Some of the athletes have never flown in a plane before. Muilenburg hopes the nursing-home residents soak up the experience of being abroad.

“We want them to immerse themselves in the culture of Prague as well,” Muilenburg said.

Like the Special Olympics, an event founded in 1968 for those with intellectual disabilities, the focus is about participation more than winning.

Clearly these athletes have nothing to prove.

“These are typical nursing-home residents,” Muilenburg said of the athletes. “They all promote active living and exercise.”

**Sending the seven athletes and their supporters to Europe is a pricey affair. Donations are welcome. To find out how to give or learn more about the event, contact director Dr. Ted Muilenburg at 304-610-9649 or at htm406@aol.com.
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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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