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Sentimental over seniors

Meeting competitors in living-centre games makes you misty-eyed

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The ASC Seniors Games, now in its fifth year, sees thousands of residents living in seniors centres compete in various events.

BORIS MINKEVICH Enlarge Image

The ASC Seniors Games, now in its fifth year, sees thousands of residents living in seniors centres compete in various events.

Someone hand me a tissue, because opening ceremonies always make me a little emotional.

You probably assume I am referring to the kickoff of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, but you could not be more wrong.

What I am referring to is the seniors' version of the Winter Olympics, the ASC Seniors Games organized by All Seniors Care Living Centres, which kicked off Monday morning and draw to a close today.

Now in their fifth year, the Seniors Games involved thousands of seniors at 20 living centres across Canada doing battle over five days in everything from Wii bowling and billiards to shuffleboard, bocce and poker.

What with being a middle-aged, overweight newspaper columnist with naturally curly hair and a unique ability for lying on the couch in my den for hours at a time watching sports highlights, I was invited to help launch the Games at the Shaftesbury Park Retirement Residence.

The first event of the Games featured hundreds of seniors --many equipped with canes, walkers and motorized wheelchairs -- zipping along the hallways on all three floors of the centre, a distance of approximately a mile.

Teams of highly trained "dignitaries" were stationed on each floor to carry out the complex tasks of (a) flinging water bottles at sweating seniors as they cruised by; and (b) slapping stickers on the seniors' T-shirts to indicate they had successfully navigated a particular floor.

Frankie Hollywood and Jordan Knight from Energy 106 FM were on the third floor, Winnipeg police Insp. Rick Lange and a crew of officers guarded the second, while me and my hero, former Bombers QB and current B.C. Lions pivot Buck Pierce, teamed up at the first-floor station.

It is difficult, using mere words, to describe how inspiring it was to see hundreds of seniors decked out in sneakers and T-shirts giving it their all in hopes of winning their own medal, but I will try: It was very inspiring!

Buck, who is in marginally better condition, and I worked ourselves into a lather doling out stickers to anyone -- or anything -- that came within a 30-metre radius. Our motto was: If they aren't moving, slap a sticker on them; if they are moving, stop them and then slap a sticker on them.

It was Buck's second year at the Games, so a lot of the seniors paused to say hello, get a hug, and offer heartfelt observations such as: "You look wonderful, Buck!" Or: "You are such a handsome young man!"

Seeing me, the seniors frowned for several moments, then offered the most sincere compliment I have ever received in my years as a hard-hitting columnist, namely: "Doug, you are not nearly as fat as I thought you would be."

In between walking the floors, the residents also took time to offer glimpses of their lives. "I was a painter for 46 years, and I had to work very hard," one silver-haired woman said, thoughtfully, before striding away. "I am outgoing, outspoken and outlandish," another senior snickered with a wink.

The point is, even hard-nosed columnists, professional quarterbacks, police officers and local politicians were left a tad misty-eyed as the residents of a seniors facility were transformed into Olympians.

Speaking of getting misty-eyed, I was also deeply moved by today's opening ceremony of the Sochi Games, even though, technically speaking, I have not yet seen the opening ceremony because I am writing this column on Thursday morning.

But because I have spent several Olympics on the couch in my den, stuffing my face with taco chips and watching athletes I do not know competing in events I do not entirely understand, I think I am more than qualified to render an opinion.

It's going to be humbling staring at my big-screen TV and realizing I am just one of about three billion people worldwide watching a multimillion-dollar ceremony meant to convey the concept Russia could crush all of us if it wanted to, but we don't have to worry about that because it is trying to be a kinder, gentler nation under the guidance of President Vladimir Putin, who says there is nothing to worry about.

We know this, because a few days ago, there was Putin being photographed in a cage gently stroking the head of a cute Persian leopard cub, a PR moment meant to convey the reassuring message that, if the Olympics are attacked by giant cats, Putin will be able to keep everyone safe.

So I am looking forward to many great Olympic moments as I watch more than 1,500 hours of live CBC coverage over the next two weeks, especially on Feb. 23, the day I go head to head with my daughter over whether to watch the gold-medal hockey game or a re-run of Gilmore Girls.

No matter what happens, someone is going to need a tissue.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2014 A2

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