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Older athletes find competition and community at the National Senior Games


For thousands of athletes, old age has not been enough to keep them from competing in sports like pickleball, shuffleboard, even basketball. As Jillian Forstadt from member station WESA reports, competitors at the National Senior Games are vying to take home the gold.

JILLIAN FORSTADT, BYLINE: Inside the Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh, roughly a dozen teams - men and women - play basketball half-court.

SHEILA BINGHAM: So it's a little bit disappointing. As you're aging, you can't move as quickly because that's what I am accustomed to - moving and maneuvering quicker than most people.

FORSTADT: Sheila Bingham came with her team, the Jackson Madisons Elite, from Jackson, Tenn.

BINGHAM: And we actually have a player that's 82. Yeah. So she is my motivator. When I see her, I can't quit. I'm encouraged to do more and keep playing.

FORSTADT: Back in high school, Bingham led the women's team, but older female athletes at the games remember a time when school teams for girls weren't guaranteed. In the early 1970s, Jean Trimboli of Norwalk, Conn., was the first woman to receive a basketball scholarship to Sacred Heart University.

JEAN TRIMBOLI: First captain - we had six girls on the team. That was it. And - you know, just played the four years, and after that, where I lived and where I was from, there was nothing else and then married and had my starting five, I call them - the starting five, no subs.

FORSTADT: Though Trimboli remained involved in the sport, coaching and running leagues for her kids, she longed to play again. Then at 56, she found the Connecticut Classics.

TRIMBOLI: Now I'm playing Sunday mornings. I play Wednesday nights. I play nationals. I play - now I can't get enough.

FORSTADT: The Senior Games athletes come from all 50 states and several Native communities. Here for shuffleboard is Debbie Lente-Jojola, a member of the Isleta Pueblo outside Albuquerque, N.M.

DEBBIE LENTE-JOJOLA: We have other pueblos here from Jemez, Sandia, some ladies from Jicarilla Apache, and, yes, there are some other teams from Albuquerque area and surrounding. But because we're Native, we tend to hang out with the Natives.

FORSTADT: The games are a chance to reconnect with old friends near and far. On the pickleball courts, Saundra Woods is cooling down.

SAUNDRA WOODS: I've played four times already. I've won three and lost one.

FORSTADT: For 51 years, Woods taught physical education in D.C. schools.

WOODS: And we played paddle ball, so this was an easy transfer for me.

FORSTADT: At nearly 80 years old, Woods says she wants to inspire others to keep playing the games they love.

WOODS: The body is made to move, and I'm just grateful.

FORSTADT: Grateful both for the good health that allows her to compete and for her teammates-turned-friends. For NPR News, I'm Jillian Forstadt in Pittsburgh.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jillian Forstadt