Opening of 2017 National Senior Games energizes Birmingham metro area

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times

Jim Merritt runs the first leg of the torch run on Friday to signal the start of the 2017 Senior Games in Birmingham. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photo).
Jim Merritt runs the first leg of the torch run on Friday to signal the start of the 2017 Senior Games in Birmingham. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photo).

Millard ‘Bo’ Carwyle isn’t your typical torchbearer. The 90-year-old had the distinction of lighting the cauldron Friday, June 2 to signal the start of the 2017 National Senior Games in Birmingham.

But as the Pinson resident put it, his role of running the final leg of the torch run on Friday and lifting the torch to light the cauldron didn’t make him special. He’s just one of the 10,000-plus athletes set to compete in 30th annual Senior Games.

And getting to meet his fellow athletes is his greatest prize.

“It’s what you get out of it from the people that you’re around,” the retired home-builder said. “We are in competition with each other in a sense, but in the friendliest way. You get a medal every once in a while and I’ve got several of them.

“But that’s not the most important thing,” said Carwyle, who competes in javelin, shot put and discus. “It’s being with the people and trying to better your own self, trying to do better the next time.”

Birmingham Mayor William Bell unofficially got festivities under way with the Mayor’s Walk. After a brisk warm up, Bell led a band of athletes through several of the competition sites at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC).

Flanked by twin sisters and swimmers Melanie Coultas and Melissa White, Millard “Bo” Carwyle heads to light the cauldron. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photo)
Flanked by twin sisters and swimmers Melanie Coultas and Melissa White, Millard “Bo” Carwyle heads to light the cauldron. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photo)

The Senior Games — the largest multisport event in the world for people age 50 and older — began Friday, June 2, with the Flame Arrival Ceremony, and run through Thursday, June 15.

Athletes from across the U.S. are set to compete in 800-plus events in 19 medal sports. There are 279 athletes from Alabama. The state with the most athletes: Tennessee, with 1,033.

The BJCC is the hub of events and the site of sports like basketball and badminton. Other events—archery, cycling, golf, softball, swimming, track and field, triathlon, volleyball, and others—will be at venues across the metro area, including the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium Complex; the Samford University Track and Soccer Complex; the Liberty Park Sports Complex; and the Birmingham CrossPlex.

During the Mayor’s Walk, Bell paused for a quick class in playing pickleball, a paddle sport that is a cross between tennis and badminton.

The mayor said the National Senior Games are an economic boost for the city. More importantly, he said, is the boost the Games provide for Birmingham’s image as “a city that wants to be healthy, wants to keep people active at all different age levels. We’re just excited.”

“We’re looking at fellowship, first of all,” Bell continued, “and secondly to get everyone really active and involved in the games, get us ready to fully participate.”

Birmingham Mayor William Bell gets instructions on the art of pickleball from Sharon MacKenzie. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photo)
Birmingham Mayor William Bell gets instructions on the art of pickleball from Sharon MacKenzie. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photo)

Asked which sport he would participate given a choice, Bell said basketball “since I used to play basketball. I understand we’ve got some good teams out here. It would be pretty tough competition.”

Asked who he would recruit for his team, his quick reply was: “Magic Johnson.”

Olympic medalist Jennifer Chandler Stevenson and paralympic medalist Bob Lujano accompanied Bell on his walk. Stevenson is development coordinator at Lakeshore Foundation, an official Olympic and Paralympic Training Facility.

“We are all about staying moving,” she said of Lakeshore. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, what your abilities are or your physical disabilities are. It’s about doing whatever you can do and staying at it all the time, and having fun.”

On Friday, June 9 the pageantry of the Celebration of Athletes will be held beginning at 7 p.m. in the BJCC’s Legacy Arena. After the Parade of Athletes and other ceremonial traditions there will be a 30th Anniversary celebration with special recognitions and an inspirational mini-documentary video narrated by four-time Olympic Gold Medalist John Naber.

The guest speaker will be running icon Kathrine Switzer, who overcame barriers to become the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967, and who returned at age 70 this year to run the marathon again 50 years later. Switzer will also compete in the 10K Road Race on Saturday, June 10.

Jennifer Chandler Stevenson speaks at podium prior to the Mayor’s Walk as Birmingham Mayor William Bell looks on. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photo)
Jennifer Chandler Stevenson speaks at podium prior to the Mayor’s Walk as Birmingham Mayor William Bell looks on. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photo)

For schedules of events visit: http://nsga.com/schedule

Follow @2017NSGBHM on twitter for updates. #SeniorGames2017

Read more about the 2017 Senior Games:
Love key to success for husband-wife team competing in mixed doubles,
Birmingham hosts more than 10,000 athletes from across the U.S. for 2017 senior games