Going for Gold at the Orange County Senior Games

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Meet four older adults who competed in the county’s own Olympic-style event

Alicia Reid is an avid cyclist and competed during the Orange County Senior Games.
Alicia Reid is an avid cyclist and raced during the Orange County Senior Games.

By Renee Ambroso | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Alicia Reid’s enthusiasm is palpable. It bubbles over when she talks about her favorite topic – fitness. “I’ve got the gift of gab,” Alicia jokes. “Everywhere I go, I talk about [fitness]. It’s not a common conversation yet – but it should be.” For the past year, that chat began with, “Have you heard about the Orange County Senior Games?” Alicia asks everyone who attends the cardio, water aerobics, cycling and strength classes she teaches at the Orange County Sportsplex and the Seymour Center. Her passion for the games reached a new level when she became an ambassador in 2020, with a goal to garner much more participation. “I talk to a lot of people about why they’re not active,” she explains. “Age does not mean inability to do things. It’s the quality of life [I want] to encourage.” Alicia also asks people of color what sports or activities they’d like to see added to the games’ roster “to make people excited, get them moving again.” She says, “[More participation] is my goal, especially from the Black population.”

Alicia Reid often heads out for a ride near her home in Orange County.

As a wellness coach, Alicia says that signing up will give people a boost. She knows firsthand how the games can give an extra dose of motivation; after years of volunteering during the event, she took part in power walking and cycling races this spring in the 60 to 65 age bracket. She looks forward to entering the statewide games in the future and experiencing the heightened atmosphere and energy of the event as a participant.

Alicia says the games are a facilitator for personal growth and well-being rather than strictly competition. “The senior games come in because you’re feeling so good about the fact that you committed to working out that you want to challenge yourself. It’s about your ability to make things happen,” Alicia says. “You’re competing with yourself. … [The games] are like the fireworks for what you’ve been doing for yourself.”

“As a participant, volunteer and ambassador, I want people to know this is what Orange County offers, and it’s fun. I’m hoping to bring that awareness. Building [frequent physical activity] into a lifestyle, the goal setting and participation boosts wellness,” Alicia says.

Badminton is just one of the sports that Lee Schimmelfing enjoys.

“Part of my mission in life is to help people become more healthy, more fit throughout their life,” says Lee Schimmelfing, an exercise physiologist and teaching assistant professor in UNC’s department of exercise and sports science. Lee, who plays badminton, basketball and races in cycling against other 65- to 69-year-olds, wants to encourage older adults to get moving and give the senior games a try. Lee incorporates the competition into his year-round schedule of varied physical activity, which also includes running.

“Our problem is people aren’t hearing about [the senior games],” says Lee, who discovered the program years ago. He subsequently jumped in headfirst, and is now a co-coordinator of the 2021 games and one of five ambassadors who spread the word throughout the county.

“[The ambassadors] all have this similar goal of maintaining our fitness and health and encouraging others to do the same,” Lee says. “[Through the games] your whole physical activity level has an opportunity to ramp up in a positive way.”

Amy Piersma has one true love when it comes to sports – badminton. She flashes her mask, printed with a pattern of tiny white shuttlecocks.

Amy says that the senior games are “the only competition open to someone at my level. Not that I need to compete – but I enjoy it, that little bit of extra stress with competition.” She has advanced to the statewide games in her 70 to 74 age group three times in her four years of entering. Amy and her husband, Paul Piersma, often visit the weight room at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill, where this year’s singles matches took place in May.

Amy Piersma plays badminton at the Seymour Center.

“It makes you stronger and improves balance and strength for running back and forth [or] side to side,” Amy says. “You don’t need a lot of upper body or arm strength for badminton, but you do need leg strength [to not injure] yourself.”

Thanks to her diligent training, Amy moves swiftly across the Seymour Center’s indoor court, flicking her racket to return rallys. The competition isn’t too stiff; Amy’s friend and badminton coach, C.D. Poon, laughs and cracks a joke as he lobs over a return.

Since she transitioned from tennis to badminton in order to play in the games, Amy has found a handful of worthy opponents – from C.D. to her neighbors, whom she plays with some evenings at their backyard net, passing a glow-in-the-dark shuttlecock back and forth. “Come and play with us,” Amy advises other older adults. “We’re always looking for new players. … I’ve made a lot of new friends at the senior games and the Seymour Center. It’s been a great social circle.”

Angela Andrews, 74, is easy to spot in a deep red jersey sporting the number 13. The Carrboro resident is cheered on by friends and teammates who know her as “Sunny” on the basketball court. The nickname matches her bright demeanor and grin. She’s been shooting hoops during the Orange County Senior Games since 2010, after seeing a presentation about the program during halftime of a Duke women’s basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. “I went crazy trying to find out how to [register],” Sunny says. More than a decade later, her enthusiasm for the competition hasn’t dimmed.

Angela “Sunny” Andrews plays basketball during the Senior Games, just like her mother did.

“It’s meant so much to me and my mom,” Angela says. Since she was a child, she shared a love of basketball with her mother – also a senior games participant when she was in her 90s. Angela now wants to get more women involved. “I want to help people join us. It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

Sunny has participated in softball and track and field events like shot put but spends most of her time playing basketball, practicing every Tuesday through Thursday morning at the Orange County Sportsplex with other women who form the county’s team. Her goal is for participation to ramp up so they can form a full-fledged women’s league. “My dream is to get people [involved] who don’t have money, [who] are sitting at home,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what your skill level is.” The invitation to join, like her friendly smile, is offered to everyone on the court. CHM

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Chapel Hill Mag Intern

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