“I will never be too old to have this much fun” were the words spoken by Roy Baugh, an elder living at Harrodsburg Care and Rehabilitation as he climbed into the van to head home. Roy had just spent the day at the Signature HealthCare Headquarters participating in the annual Senior Olympics.
Each year we bring hundreds of elders together in many states to compete for top medals and trophies in a heartwarming competition. To them, it is more than winning a medal. It’s a celebration of strength; a time to transform the views of society on the aging process.
For months, the athletes prepare for the event. They practice events in all categories including physical and cognitive. They pull together as a team at their home to create team banners and t-shirts. They stay focused with their eyes on the prize, all hoping to bring home the gold.
On game day, the elders arrive to a “decked out” location with all the props for a great day! They participate in events such as mini golf, bean bag toss, wheelchair races and trivia to name a few. Each home forms a team consisting of athletes and stakeholders who arrive with only one thing in mind-to win!
Opening ceremonies generally consist of team chants, a parade of teams or a lip sync contest that’s all in the name of building team spirit! An elder usually recites a prayer and then the teams start rotating through the games!
It’s not uncommon to see high fives exchanged everywhere as our elders “go for the gold”!
I’ve watched different elders participate in this day more than a dozen times over the past six years. I’ve seen the look in someone’s eye as she achieves what she only thought was a possibility. I’ve watched the grin of an elder as the gold medal is placed around his neck. I’ve seen the contagious excitement of teams as they engage the crowds with their team chants. I’ve witnessed countless tears as a feeling of pride rose up in the Elders who participated.
Why are competitive events like Senior Olympics important for our elders to engage in? The answer is really simple. True quality of life touches the elder where they are. It has to exceed dated activities programming and meet the long-term care resident at their point of need.
For most people (regardless of age) healthy competition brings out the best in us. It helps us set a goal and then feel the validity of achieving it. It’s no different for our elders. I’ve noticed that over the course of six years and countless Olympics, our elders love this event more than any other. Not only do they love the opportunity to shine but they embrace the challenge of redefining aging to a watching world.
The sheer look of pride that washes across the elder’s face in those fleeting moments of accomplishment say more than any words on paper ever could. It’s a transformative feeling that passes throughout the crowd and engages everyone to be more.
Long-term care residents teach us daily how to live life and this is no exception. They are not only competing like the champions they are but they are teaching us what the spirit of winning truly looks like! In this case, we all win just by showing up for the game.
Angie McAllister is the Director of Cultural Transformation-Signature Hometown in Kentucky.