Chatham’s seniors will have another shot at the gold — and a good time — this spring during the 2022 Chatham County Senior Games & SilverArts from April 29 to May 13.
Starting March 4, adults 50 years and older may register online for the games. Interested seniors without email or internet access may alternatively fill out and send in printed registration forms.
“We usually send them out to all the athletes before either virtually or, you know, if they don’t have emails, then we send them out a package,” local games coordinator Liz Lahti told the News + Record, “and then we’ll have some available at various places throughout the community, too.”
“Early birds” who register by March 18 will pay a $10 registration fee; after March 18, the fee rises to $15. Registration closes on April 1.
All registrants will receive an official games t-shirt, “a nice goodie bag” and “lots of swag,” said Lahti, who’s also the manager of the COA’s Eastern Chatham Senior Center. The games won’t cap the number of participants.
“We’re not going to limit anybody,” Lahti said. “The more the merrier.”
Put on by the county since 1996, Chatham’s Senior Games & SilverArts offer more than 15 events — and four different art contests — to men and women of 11 different age groups, from age 50 onward. It’s one of 53 local programs statewide overseen by North Carolina Senior Games Inc, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting wellness and health education year-round among North Carolina’s senior residents.
Local Games participants who place first, second or third in most events qualify to compete in the annual Senior Games State Finals held in the fall. State Finals winners can then participate in the National Senior Games every two years, and participants who place nationally can choose to compete at the international level.
“So, it’s almost kind of like the Senior Olympics,” Lahti said. “We’ve had some swimmers in Chatham County that have moved all the way up to the international level. We have a lot that have moved on to Nationals, but Internationals, you know, it’s just a higher caliber … so that’s kind of cool.”
Local SilverArts winners can compete in a statewide competition as well, she added, though no national competition yet exists. Chatham’s games also offer disc golf, an event not found at the state level.
While the local games may qualify people for high-level competition, however, they’re not just for serious athletes who practice all year-long. The games also welcome casual athletes and people simply interested in having some fun.
Chatham’s games tend to see — and celebrate — all kinds of participants, Lahti said, among the couple hundred flocking to the events every year. At one end of the spectrum, many serious swimmers, tennis players, runners and pickleball players practice year-round with an eye for placing and competing in the state finals. On the other end, many participants just take advantage of the opportunity to pick up an old sport and meet new people.
“We had cheerleaders that maybe were cheerleaders back in the day, and they hadn’t done it for a while, but it can give them an excuse to go back to, you know, their first love, to get involved. It was kind of sweet,” Lahti said. “ … You have other ones that are like, ‘You know what? I just want to meet people, and how hard would it be to put the basketball in the hoop?’
“Then,” she added with a laugh, “we have other people who signed up just for the t-shirt.”
Beyond wellness, competition and fun, she’s seen participants enter and leave the games with a great sense of pride, accomplishment and challenge.
“They’re so happy — this one guy sleeps in his medal,” Lahti said, laughing. “ … There’s a gentleman who is one of our cyclists, and his whole family came out — I mean, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren — and they cheered him on and took pictures. It was just so cool because they were just really rooting for him, you know?”
The games’ events take place all throughout the county — and sometimes even outside of it. In previous years, for instance, cyclists, archers and runners have competed in and with neighboring Orange County, though only against fellow Chatham participants.
Inside county lines, participants might head over to Siler City Country Club for golf, to Carolina Meadows in Chapel Hill for bocce and croquet, and to the Duke Center for Living at Fearrington in Pittsboro for swimming.
“We’re all over the place, you know,” Lahti said, “ … we try to get out in the whole community, you know, just to give more people access.”
The hope this year is to offer the games in person with the usual COVID precautions — much as they did last year — and bring in more players. Last year, the games saw just over 150 participants, down from nearly 250 in pre-pandemic 2018.
“But you know, we don’t know what’s gonna happen with COVID,” she said. “ … I mean, you’re kind of just hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”
Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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