In his third year planning the Ohio Senior Games, Westerville Senior Center Program Supervisor Chris Shirring says, “It is all the stories, moments and encounters that make this event truly special for so many spectators, participants and myself.”
And successful. For the first time this summer, the Westerville Parks and Recreation Department is hosting the Ohio Senior Olympics State Games for the entire state of Ohio. This will nearly triple the attendance in years past bringing in an estimated 600 athletes.
The Ohio Senior Olympics State Games give adults ages 50 “or better” the opportunity to compete in a variety of athletic and artistic events during a three-week period starting Saturday, June 6.
“There is something for everyone,” says Shirring. “If you like a little friendly rivalry, the Games give you a chance to get on the track or stage again and even try something new.”
That’s a driving force behind 84-year-old John Sherman’s consistent participation in the Senior Games.
“I was quickly drawn to the sense of community that comes from the tournament. I’ve been participating in the Senior Games on and off since 1990, depending on whether it was available. Every time, I’ve had a lot of fun playing and visiting with old and new friends,” said Sherman.
Sherman has tried his hand at nearly every sport over the years, from track and field to cycling and volleyball. His strongest sports have always been table tennis and pickleball.
“I like the paddle games where I can smack the ball,” he says laughing. “I thrive on the competition; it makes me better.”
In 1999, with his family there supporting him, Sherman took home the gold medal in table tennis at the National Senior Games in Orlando, Florida.
“I don’t have to win to enjoy the games. Don’t get me wrong, winning does help, but my family is a powerful motivator too.”
And that’s apparent as Sherman’s face lights up talking about his loved ones.
“I have four wonderful children and a wife who I’ve been married to for more than 50 years. I want to spend as much quality time with them as I can. I’ve had some heart issues in past, but for the most part, I’m pretty healthy,” he said.
The veteran athlete attributes his good bill of health to his training regimen and discipline as a former Columbus firefighter.
“My Fire Chief wanted his unit to be in good shape. We had to do a half hour workout each day, and that led me to feel better and in turn exercise more. When I retired, I wanted to stay strong and fit. I still aim to do 75 minutes of physical activity three times a week.”
As Sherman prepares for the 2015 Senior Games, so is one of this year’s oldest competitors, 93-year-old Virginia Sterkel. She is getting ready for several matches with the help of her grandson and trainer, Ryan Jaroncyk.
“When Grandma turned 90, I knew she needed a change, something to get her moving,” said Jaroncyk. “I did a Google search and found the Senior Games. She can be stubborn, but she trusts me. I asked if she was willing to give it a go and to my surprise she said let’s try it.”
Since then, Virginia not only won the gold in corn hole, but the hearts of many fans. Last year, family and friends from her retirement village came out in “Team Sterkel” T-shirts to root her on.
“It take guts to compete. My grandma is a realistic representation of people that age. She is making the conscious decision to still to be active whether she is feeling up to it or not,” said Jaroncyk.
The time they have spent training together has not only strengthened Sterkel, but their relationship as well.
“It’s alright when he is nice. But he knows to be nice,” jokes Sterkel. “He is a good teacher, I don’t like to lose and can get pretty competitive during the Games.”
Jaroncyk says it’s another way to bond and make memories. “She is naturally a very active person. During the Games, she is really happy and gets a thrill out of beating younger folks. That tenacity has moved others we know to sign up for the senior games. And I’ll be entering as soon as I turn 50.”
Both Sterkel and Sherman are grateful to have the Senior Games held so close to home in Westerville the past few years. It’s the kind of feedback Westerville Senior Games organizer Shirring loves to hear.
“It been exciting to see how the Games have grown in Westerville in such a short time. We coordinate 24 events over the course of 20 days. Those contests are further separated by age range and gender into heats. And Westerville is the only location in Ohio to offer an arts portion, including numerous categories from pottery to dance,” said Shirring.
The Games in Westerville have a bright future ahead. In 2016, the Westerville site will act as the state qualifier for the National Senior Games drawing more than 1,400 players to the area.
“It is a powerful opportunity to show off our facilities and the City to people that aren’t from here. And at the end of the day, it is worth all the planning when you see the smiles, inspiring performances and overall positive attitudes that surround the games each year, ” says Shirring.
The Ohio Senior Olympics State Games Opening Ceremony is set for June 6 at 12 p.m. 1972 Swimming Olympic Gold Medalist Jennifer Kemp will be kicking off the festivities. Those interested in competing can register until May 22. The public is also invited to come watch the free events throughout the month .
For registration details and general information about the Games presented by Senior Star at Dublin Retirement Village and Dublin Living and Memory Support, visit www.westerville.org/seniorgames.