The Gaston County Senior Games are inching closer, and a number of Lincoln County residents are already practicing and preparing to be top victors at this year’s anticipated event.
Individuals have been training at the Senior Center since January.
While the final deadline to apply is Valentine’s Day, early registration is due Friday, according to Lincoln County Senior Center officials.
Because the county has yet to sanction its own Games — a project which would require additional volunteers, fields, judges and other accommodations in the area — residents have joined annually with participants in Gaston County since 2006.
Prior to merging with the neighboring county’s Senior Games program, Lincoln County participated in Mecklenburg County’s competition more than 25 years ago, followed by Cleveland County’s program, Senior Center officials said.
The state offers a total of 53 programs.
Between 25 and 40 Lincoln County residents sign-up for the spring event each year, including seasoned winners Sue Jane Sides and her husband Richard, both North Carolina Senior Games ambassadors.
The positions require they spread information about the Olympic-style program to others in the area by visiting nursing homes, churches and any other organization seeking further details on the Games.
From cheerleading to softball to badminton and pickleball, there aren’t many categories the couple doesn’t register for, winning 30 gold medals alone in last year’s competition, Sue Jane Sides said.
She also went on to the State Finals where she secured five more gold victories.
Richard Sides joked about the couple’s aging skills.
“We’re getting older and slower,” he said, “but it’s still fun.”
The competition breaks down age groups into increments of five, including a new age group this year for individuals 50 to 54.
Seniors as high in age as 90 to 100 have even been known to compete, Sue Jane said. She specifically remembers a 100-year-old man carrying the Senior Games torch in 2012’s Opening Ceremonies.
In addition to athletic activities, the program offers a number of creative art categories called the “Silver Arts,” which includes basket weaving, painting and various kinds of literary work such as short stories, essays and poetry.
For those seniors skilled in performance arts — acting, comedy, singing and dance — the “Silver Arts” also offers a category known as “The Follies.”
Logene Solberg, of Lincolnton, a frequent participant at Senior Center events, decided to enter the Games for the first time last year, taking home “Best of Show” at the state level for her dramatic reading.
“I love the Senior Center and Games big time,” she said.
Lincolnton resident Charles Mize is a fellow “SilverArts” contender.
Since 1993, a decade after North Carolina established Senior Games programs in various locations across the state, he has been entering his detective stories, most of which involve murder.
Examples include “Twenty-two Caliber Murder,” “The Mayor Murder” and “Queen Anne’s Revenge.”
Among the short stories, essays and “life experience” pieces he’s written over the years, 80-year-old Mize has gained 21 gold medals, six silver and five bronze. He took home three gold medals and two silvers in competitions at the State Finals.
He credits his former career in special investigations for the United States Air Force as motivation for his crime-centered themes, but Mize has always been a writer.
“Ever since I’ve been a kid,” he said, “I’ve written, but the Senior Games gave me an opportunity to write about what I wanted.”
His wife Libby also competes.
New to this year’s program are Becky Crisco and Dot Swart, who met each other through the Lincoln County Senior Center.
They each plan to compete with their husbands and have decided to stick with easier sports for their first year, signing up for shuffleboard and cornhole only.
After Swart moved from Connecticut last year, she and her husband were looking for something to do with others their age.
She thought Senior Games would be just the thing they needed.
“I just want to have fun and do something different,” Swart said.
Crisco views the opportunity to compete with her new friends as a way to keep her busy and mind fresh.
“It gets us out of the house,” she said.
Crisco, also new to the area, having moved only a year before Swart, also plans to enter some of her photos into the competition.
One of the pictures showcases hawks in her backyard, she said, while another exhibits osprey in Idaho.
In addition to local and state games, seniors have the chance to contend in the National Senior Games every two years.
The event is sponsored by the National Senior Games Association (NSGA), an organization separate from the North Carolina Senior Games.
Only top winners from each state get to participate at the national level.
State Finals this year will be the qualifying event for the national competition in 2015.
Opening Ceremonies will take place March 29 at Sims Legion Park; Closing Ceremonies will be April 26 at the Gaston County Senior Center.
“Come out and join,” Mize said. “There’s some place you will find an activity in progress.”
For more information on Senior Games 2014, or to obtain an entry form, stop by the Lincoln County Senior Center at 514 South Academy Street on the Gaston College-Lincoln campus in Lincolnton or call (704) 732-9053.
For further details on programs across the state, visit ncseniorgames.org.
Transportation will be provided for any person needing assistance to and from the events, Senior Center officials said.