Mike Madden was 66 years old when he won his first medal in basketball — a bronze medal earned by beating a Pennsylvania team at the National Senior Games in Cleveland last year.
Two years before medaling, Madden took fourth place in the triple jump — a coup for him, since he had not competed in the sport since he was in grade school.
Madden credits the Alabama Senior Games for helping him rediscover his passion for competing. He now sees an opportunity to get more seniors back on the playing fields as Birmingham prepares to host the National Senior Games — sometimes known as the senior Olympics — in 2017.
Last week the Alabama Sports Foundation and the City of Birmingham announced the city had won its bid for the games. Officials project 12,000 athletes and 25,000 spectators will descend on the city for five days in June 2017.
The National Senior Games, a biennial event, hosts seniors ages 50 and older in 19 games that include traditional Olympic sports such as track and field, archery, basketball, swimming, tennis and volleyball. Shuffleboard, golf, horseshoes and race walking are also among the slate of sports. All 50 states send qualifying athletes to the national games.
While the city hopes to see large financial gains by hosting the event, local organizers and athletes hope to see substantial gains in the number of seniors participating in the local games leading up to the big event.
Ronnie Floyd, the coordinator of the state games, said he expects to see a boost in numbers of athletes competing to qualify for the 2017 games. “I think this will help us pick up a lot of additional athletes with the national games being here,” he said. “Since many will not have to travel out of state, I expect a lot more people will want to participate.”
Floyd said between 800 and 900 seniors participated in the 22-sport state games held this year in Oxford. Floyd said the number of athletes usually goes up the year before nationals.
As many as 250 athletes have qualified for nationals during a given year. Madden is among the most recent medal winners from the state, along with a gold medal table tennis winner Duke Stogner.
Just do it
Madden was in his late 50s when he started reminiscing about his track and field days as a triple jumper, and while he was in Detroit in 2008, he attended the state senior games there. “I wondered if I could still do it,” he said.
“The first time I went out I thought it was a disaster, I couldn’t jump as far. But I could still do it. I couldn’t jump as far as I did when I was younger, but it was still just as fun.” Madden, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, said it took some time to get his medication dosage right so that he could compete with little pain.
The games accommodate age-related limits: Madden said that with the triple jump, athletes are able to place their starting marks where they want. With basketball, teams play half-court games. Most people think they have to be in extraordinary shape to compete in sports, even at this age, Madden said, but that is not the case. “If you just get out there and try your best, that is enough.”
Ric Callahan of Pell City said he always loved sports and recreation and had been looking for a way to keep up that passion for competing. He competed in his first state senior games this year, and now the 54-year-old associate pastor at Pell City Baptist Church said he is hooked. “There is something for everybody,” he said. “And I am all for promoting seniors staying in shape.”
State games organizer Floyd said that notices are sent to YMCAs, recreation centers, senior centers and other senior groups about the senior games. While there is a current need for more athletes in all sports, Floyd would like to see more participants — both men and women — in team sports such as basketball, softball and volleyball.
For more information on the Alabama Senior games, contact Floyd at (334) 242-4496 or visit the Alabama Senior Olympics website.