By Bill Derby, Publisher
Three local families scored medals in the Senior Olympics held this past June in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Retired Johnson City attorney, Steve Fox, shares their story that started over 40 years ago at the Johnson City Racquetball Club on Springbrook Drive. Steve Miller opened the court and the game quickly became very popular. Many people continued to play year after year.
It was not an easy road to qualify for the Senior Olympics. Steve said, “My wife, Stacie, and I along with Rick Bearfield and wife, Linda, Jane Snyder and husband Eddie Myers traveled to Albuquerque for the events. Jane, Rick and I started playing almost 40 years ago at the Johnson City Club. Jane plays singles, doubles and mixed doubles with Rick. Rick and I play doubles together and singles in our respective age groups.
It was a challenge just to get into the Senior Olympics as Steve continues. “We qualified for the Senior Olympics by playing in the qualifying rounds last summer in Franklin, Tennessee. Qualifying events take place in most states to determine who makes it into the National Senior Games. There were approximately 13,700 participants in the national games.
“A lady you may have seen on television was 103-year-old Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins from Louisiana who again broke her record for the 100 meter dash she set in 2017. Nationally, 203 people competed in the racquetball events, 21 players were from Tennessee.
Steve proudly commented, “We played well with our spouses serving as our trainers, coaches and psychologists. Eddie was the best driver anyone could have and brought home several medals. Jane earned Gold Medals in singles, mixed doubles and doubles. Rick won Gold in mixed doubles with Jane and Bronze in doubles with me and also in singles. I earned a Bronze with Rick in doubles and in singles.
We were happy to have played well enough to earn medals along with meeting so many nice people who participated including many with extraordinary success stories. I am forever changed by the people I met at the games. Here are just two examples of people we met.
“I remember Billy. We reconnected with Billy, a tall athletic gentleman from a small town in south Texas. I had played Billy at the games several years ago. He defeated me then and won the Gold that year. I recall I was exhausted after the match and laid down on the floor to catch my breath. I looked up and there was my spouse, Stacie, having her picture made with Billy! I asked Stacie what she was thinking.
She smiled and replied, “Well, I got to know his lovely wife, children and grandchildren this week and he’s such a nice man and played such a great match, I thought it would be fun to have a picture with him.
“My reply is confidential. But Stacie was correct. Billy is a great guy with a wonderful family. He was defeated this year however, and Stacie had to settle for a picture with me.
“Another fellow our group played against was Doug. Doug is from Delaware and is tall and athletic. He played singles and also he and his partner played against Jane and Rick in mixed doubles. He wore knee braces with large knee pads, which, much to my amazement, he adroitly used to slide across the floor to get shots he otherwise could not reach. He and his partner lost to Jane and Rick, but it was a battle to the end. We spoke with Doug the next morning at breakfast. He revealed he had triple by-pass surgery last January. I didn’t believe him until he pulled up his shirt and revealed the scar.”
Steve continued, “In reflecting on playing in the games, I am reminded there are a number of my fellow senior citizens who, despite having the heart of a champion, cannot, as a result of injury, or illness, participate in the games or similar activities. Instead, these folks endure chronic pain, but get up every morning and exercise to limit their pain and maintain their mobility. I admire their courage and determination and realize they are the Gold Medal winners no one sees.”
The proud Senior Olympic medal winners stayed a few extra days and did some sight seeing.
Steve commented on their trip, “New Mexico is vast and beautiful. We returned home tired. The altitude where we played is approximately three times the altitude of Johnson City. It was a challenge to adjust and you can definitely feel the thinner air.
“I feel so fortunate to have participated in the games. There are risks, of course, but the people we met, their stories, and the competition made it worthwhile. Joint replacements (hips and knees) are common, at least in the racquetball group. The racquetball group competitors, and really all competitors in the games, just want to play and win. I should emphasize the word “Win”. Everyone wants to win. The participants vary in ability, but the desire to compete and win is universal. In the racquetball competition, when you close the door to the court, everyone is 20-years-old, at least in their own minds. I once heard the late Arnold Palmer say to the effect, ‘I know I’m going to die, I just want to live until I die.’ The people you find at the games embrace Palmer’s statement. I am inspired by their courage and determination and grateful for a body that allows me to participate.”