Above: John Taylor from Atlanta was the oldest person to compete in the National Senior Games triathlon. Photos courtesy of Georgia Golden Olympics.
Georgia’s annual senior Olympics encourage a competitive spirit in a variety of games
Sports are often seen as a way to maintain wellbeing and healthy lifestyle. The Georgia Golden Olympics, however, sees senior sports as a competitive arena, where participants must come with their game faces on.
The annual senior games hosted in Warner Robins invites all adults 50 and over to compete in a variety of sports competitions this September 26-29. The Georgia Golden Olympics hosts events for a spectrum of abilities, but whether it’s softball or shuffleboard, all games have a competitive edge.
Georgia Golden Olympics coordinator Vicki Pilgrim has organized the games since its inception in 1983. She’s seen the senior Olympics grow from just six events to 60, and grow in popularity, starting with 70 participants to breaking attendance at over 700. There are 20 sports played — from badminton and basketball to race walk and racquetball — and each sport is offered to men’s and women’s categories, broken into groups for ages 50-54, 55-59, etc. Every event awards first, second and third places in each age group.
The games started off with more recreational games such as horseshoe toss, a half mile walk, football and Frisbee and has progressed to a 5K run, swimming and all the track and field events. “One of the things I’m very proud of is that we offer something to everybody,” Pilgrim said. “If you’re in a wheelchair, you can compete; if you’re a high jumper, you can also compete.”
Pilgrim doesn’t compete in any events during the games, yet she performs the longest endurance race of the games. Over the course of four days, she organizes two dozen staff and 200 volunteers and executes 60 events for the 20 sports, all while enjoying fellowship with animated athletes.
Some of the most popular games are powered by strong legs, where age simply means the athletes have had longer to train. For years, couple Ryan Beighley, 92, and Marty Barlow-Beighley, 74, have dominated the track and field events, competing in many track and field events, jumping both long and triple and throwing discus and shot put.
Running even farther is 5K athlete Andrea Harrison, an 84-year-old from Newnan. Each year, she’s fueled by her grandchildren who wear “Grammy’s Groupies” t-shirts and cheer along the 5K route.
The Georgia Golden Olympics is hosted by the City of Warner Robins and the Warner Robins Recreation Department whose facilities host the majority of events. Greens for golf are held at Southern Landings Golf Course and the cycling event is held just south of Warner Robins in rural Grovania’s straightaways and surprising hills.
Dr. John Taylor is hoping to take on Grovania’s hills soon. At 97, the lifelong triathlete speeds around on his bike, not power wheelchair. While he took a break last year, Pilgrim expects him peddle past soon.
“Part of our reason for hosting the Olympics is to maintain health and improve health and wellbeing, but many list fun and competition as their top reasons for participating,” Pilgrim said. “A lot of them have been athletes all their lives, so they want to continue to be competitive…People see that and become aware that older people really are out being active and doing things, more so than a lot of younger people.”
Attending a competitive game is worth traveling for, and athletes travel to the Georgia Golden Olympics from throughout the southeast to compete, especially as Georgia’s games are held as an open event so athletes from all over the country can keep their competitive edge. Pilgrim said one participant has been to 34 state games over the years and listed Georgia Golden Olympics as the best offering of events and competition.
Success at the state level is rewarded with a chance to attend the National Senior Games held during odd years, returning June 2019 in Albuquerque, N.M. Six hundred athletes from Georgia qualified for the games in 2017 and sent 300 to the competition held in Birmingham, Al. Georgia was 12thoverall, with a total of 157 medals, at the 2017 National Games.
The victors will thump their chests at the Awards Dinner and Dance on Friday night at the Wellston recreation center in Warner Robins. The “USO Stars and Stripes Celebration” will highlight medalists as well as those who will move on to the 2019 National Games. Always modest, Pilgrim will make sure competitive athletes receive an extra slice of humble pie.
Georgia Golden Olympics
- Wednesday, Sept. 26 through Saturday, Sept. 29
- Games held in locations throughout the City of Warner Robins area
- Register by August 1
- For more info, call the Georgia Golden Olympics office at 770-867-3603 or visit georgiagoldenolympics.org.