April 23, 2019

Dana

(Dana, top row, second from the left, celebrating a team victory.)

While the various types of neuropathy pose a number of debilitating health challenges, the search for that one thing that will ease the pain and help one turn the corner of the disease and provide hope can be a frantic as well as most frustrating journey.

Ten years ago when my then undiagnosed peripheral neuropathy went into overdrive; I stepped into a local gym believing that structured exercise would help curb the mysterious and unrelenting pain which had been increasingly haunting me for 45 years.  Never being a gym rat, I felt like a fish out of water but was determined to make things better for myself.  After several rounds in the weight room however, I felt like I had encountered another monster to conquer.  My sensory and motor skills along with my diminishing strength made me feel helpless and frightened.  A chance encounter one day at the gym, however, led to a discovery which would thankfully give me the courage and hope to move forward.

Unbeknownst to me that afternoon, I would become a part of national group which promoted healthy lifestyles for adults over age 50 through education, fitness, and sport.  I had never heard of the National Senior Games Association (nsga.com) before that, but within a few months, it would become my lifeline.  I was playing volleyball alongside others despite never considering myself an athlete.  I soon learned, however, that my participation as well as for most of the others, was not really about athletics; although, it was nice winning medals along the way.  It was an instant family and support network which provided the motivation, compassion, and unique friendship which I had been missing.  It was also active participation,movement, teamwork, exercise, and fun.  Over the next decade, I would meet some wonderful and courageous people from around the country grappling with their own health battles from Parkinson’s to heart disease, epilepsy, head injuries, Alzheimer’s, and cancer as well as aging complications.  I met a 95 year swimmer at the National Games in Stanford University who was both amazing and inspiring.  Also in California, I came across an 89 year old pole vaulter who had taken up the event at age 87 to stay active and connected.

It didn’t take look for me to be fully engaged participating at every opportunity. I switched to basketball a few years later and played with teams from Texas, to New Jersey, to New Mexico, to Illinois, and Canada as the NSGA is comprised of state affiliates. 

Formed in 1985 as a non-profit organization, the National Senior Games Association was an instant success attracting 2,500 participants at its first national games held in 1987 in St. Louis.  The National Games, a 20-sport event offering everything from team sports like volleyball, basketball and softball to events like horseshoes, bowling, pickle ball, badminton, golf, tennis, swimming and track and field, is biennial competition for men and women 50 and over.  With nearly 12,000 individuals now participating, the NSGA is the largest multi-sport event in the world for seniors.

Qualifying standards for the national games differ depending on the sport/event and are outlined on the organization’s website.  To qualify for the games held at different national sites on odd-numbered years, one participates in a state sanctioned NSGA qualifying event held at different times throughout the year.  I attend at least five state tournaments in any given year. In most sports, the top four finishers in each age group (i.e. 50-54, 55-59, 60-64, etc.) qualify for Nationals, as well as those who meet the Minimum Performance Standards (in applicable sports). The exceptions are tennis (only the top 3 finishers for each age group qualify), golf (you must meet the Minimum Performance Standards or finish 1st) and Triathlon (all finishers qualify). For team sports (basketball, softball, volleyball) the top 3 teams in each age group qualify.

As my skills have diminished over the years, I find that others in my age group are fighting their own battles so the playing field remains relatively level and everyone is incredibly supportive.  Thanks to my participation in the NSGA, I’ve been able to stay motivated, positive, somewhat healthy, and socially engaged with some incredible women and men from age 50 to 95.  It’s never too late.