Golden oldies

The participants of the Reno Tahoe Senior Winter Games keep the spirit of competition alive.

Bob Forse and his opponent watch a tense exchange during this season’s shuffleboard tournament.

Bob Forse and his opponent watch a tense exchange during this season’s shuffleboard tournament.

Photo/Matt Bieker

Since 1928, the modern Olympic games have used the ceremonial flame as a symbol of the burning spirit of competition, warmth of camaraderie and passion for excellence demonstrated by the world’s top athletes. That’s all well and good, but one could argue that the competitors in the Reno/Tahoe Senior Games are better representatives of those qualities—some of them have been around longer than the flame, anyway.

Every six months, the Parks Department schedules a two-week competition for the city’s senior citizens, classified as age 50 and above, at appropriate venues and city-owned buildings around the Truckee Meadows. Participants can enter dozens of events, from card games to rock climbing.

“We do have a lot of really cool events,” said Dan Massey, one of the managers of the Parks and Recreation Department. “Like, we had go-kart racing—a lot of senior citizens probably haven’t done that in a really long time—and it gives them an opportunity to get out and try something new. And then, also, just be around people that have similar interests, and have conversations and just get a little bit of socialization.”

The games have been around in their current form since 2001, Massey said, but were known by other names in years previous. They are staged as the summer and winter games according to the season, with specific events like track and field in the warmer months, or skiing and snowshoeing in the cold. The goal, Massey said, is to encourage any and all senior citizens to get active, either physically or mentally.

“So, we offer events for every skill or health level within our senior games,” Massey said. “Even if you can’t, you know, go out and swim 400 meters, you can sit down and play cards and still get the socialization. The events themselves are almost secondary. The goal is that you just get people out of the house and around other people, so that’s kind of what we center around.”

This season’s games began on Jan. 30 and concluded on Feb. 14 and included events like poker, cribbage, swimming, archery, weightlifting and cross-country skiing, among others.

Bob Forse, organizer of and competitor in this season’s shuffle board tournament at the California Building in Idlewild Park, has a special history with the games—he ran them for years when he managed the Parks and Recreation Department. Now a retiree, his involvement with the games has gone from a professional to a personal one.

“The whole idea behind it is to basically get seniors out doing things with other seniors and things that maybe they haven’t done in years,” Forse said. “I’m like, ’You’re going to have a 75-year-old person climb a 40-foot wall?’ And they do it. And when they get to the top and ring the bell, the look on their faces is, ’Oh my God, I can’t believe I did that.’”

Plus, he said, there’s no harm in a little friendly competition—mentioning a personal rivalry he’s developed with a friend over the seasonal archery tournament.

“Competing is something that we don’t get to do much anymore when we get older,” Forse said. “When you get older, you don’t get to go out and do your best against somebody else. So, now these people get out, and they get to actually try to outdo somebody else.”

Forse and the other volunteers each choose the events for which they serve as the primary organizers, working within the City’s tight budget for equipment and refreshments. However, some of the major expenses, like lift tickets or specialty equipment, are subsidized through local business who sponsor the Senior Games. And donations are greatly appreciated.

“Anybody that is willing to give up a space or time or a product or something like that,” Forse said. “I mean, Kelly [Rowland] and I, we brought a lot of the food and stuff from our Superbowl party. We just brought a bunch of that stuff and stopped by Costco, grabbed some stuff and brought it in, and it’s stuff like that that makes the game bigger. Because then people want to be part of it, and they want to help.”

In your court

While the events vary in popularity and participants, the most heavily attended event this year by far was pickleball, a combination of badminton and tennis played with wide wooden paddles and an aerated plastic ball.

“We actually have more people playing pickleball in the senior games tournaments than all the other sports combined,” said Lyle Mason, president of the Truckee Meadows Pickleball Club, which currently has approximately 240 members.

Pickleball has been a part of the Senior Games since 2015, although it’s been played in the valley for at least eight years since it first started at the Neil Road Recreation Center, which still hosts daily pickup games. This season, the tournament was spread over multiple days and locations, including the Evelyn Mount Northeast Community Center and the Boys and Girls Club on Foster Drive. The Senior Games are divided into different divisions based on age, starting at 50, And advancing every 5 years, in order to keep things competitive in the highly popular sport.

“There’s a lot of room for advancement in your skill,” said player Alan Clarke. “So it’s really good because it’s easy on your legs … So the appeal of this sport, especially to seniors is it’s a soft ball and moves slow, it’s a small court so you don’t have to be able to run or sprint to come out here and participate and it’s also very social because in this event you are very close together.”

Liz Brown, another regular pickleball player who won her division at the games, values the camaraderie as well as the competition found in regular matches.

“We love the people,” Brown said. “It’s active. We get good exercise. … It’s very addictive because there’s a pretty short learning curve, but then there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Outside of the Senior Games, and even outside of Reno, there is a growing national pickleball scene that Brown said is an easy way to find year-round tournaments in new locations.

“A lot of our club members do to go get better play because there’s this whole U.S. Pickleball Association, and they sponsor tournaments out there all over the country,” she said. “There are even pickleball vacations like in Cancun and Kansas City.”

Competitors in the season’s games are awarded, gold, silver and bronze medals at the end of each event. Winners from previous years could be seen posing for photos (or even competing) with medals from previous games draped around their necks—not unlike the iconic Sports Illustrated cover of Olympian Michael Phelps bedecked in his own accomplishments.

After the competition had run it’s course, however, this season’s games were capped off by a Valentine’s Day dinner and dance at the El Dorado Casino during which the organization recognized all the competitors and awarded a few special honors as well. The oldest competitor, for example, received a special plaque.

The Darryl Feemster Legacy Award is also given every season to honor the memory of Darryl Feemster, a prior manager of the Parks Department and one of the Reno/Tahoe Games staunchest advocates.

“We give the award to whomever we feel best personifies what the games are all about competing hard, going out and being social, things like that,” Massey said.

The summer games are already in the works, Massey said, and anyone interested in competing can learn more at the Parks and Recreation Department’s website, or people can call Senior Services at 657-4602.