The 2017 National Senior Games bring health and wellness boost to the city

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times

Birmingham Mayor William Bell and officials with the 2017 National Senior Games lead athletes during the Mayor's Walk at the opening ceremonies in downtown Birmingham. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./For The Birmingham Times).
Birmingham Mayor William Bell and officials with the 2017 National Senior Games lead athletes during the Mayor’s Walk at the opening ceremonies in downtown Birmingham. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./For The Birmingham Times).

The 2017 National Senior Games may bring an economic boost to the city of Birmingham, but Mayor William Bell says the benefits are more than monetary.

More importantly, he said, is the lift 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.”

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.

More than 10,000 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.

Estimates by the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau (GBCVB) set the projected economic impact at more than $30 million.

Bell unofficially got festivities under way with the Mayor’s Walk on Friday, June 2. After a brisk warm up, Bell led a band of athletes through several of the competition sites at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC).

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.

During the opening ceremonies 90-year-old Millard ‘Bo’ Carwyle had the distinction of lighting the cauldron Friday, June 2 to signal the start of the Senior Games.

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.”

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.