Senior Games finally back at starting line | News | The Villages Daily Sun.

Though Avis Vaught’s involvement in The Villages Senior Games goes back 15 editions, her passion for the athletic showcase comes across as fresh as the early years.

Some of that may have to do with the fact the Village of Belvedere dynamo is finally recovered from surgeries on both of her shoulders. No less significant, though, is simply that the Games are back.

After two years on the shelf because of COVID-19 concerns, the curtain formally rises once again today on Florida’s Friendliest Hometown’s own sports festival.

“I want to play. I want to run and jump and throw,” said Vaught, for whom the Villages’ event has been a springboard to dozens of state and national medals. “I’m just excited that my arms are functioning. If I can keep the rest of my body parts working, I’m good to go.

“I think the Games were missed here in The Villages.”

That’s the general sentiment around the community, as the entry count for the 2022 Games quickly returned to the 2,000 threshold that signed up for the last edition in 2019.

“It’s looking like we hit the mark,” said Lisa Parkyn, lifestyle events manager for The Villages Recreation & Parks who oversees Senior Games coordination.

Said John Borjeson, president of The Villages Table Tennis Club: “Everybody is quite happy to have them back again.”

The first events take place today in archery and the 5K road race, with the Games’ first full day set for Monday with four sports on the docket. Monday night also brings a form of opening ceremonies, with the “gathering of athletes” at 6 pm at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square.

In all, 29 sports are on this year’s program to be played at 17 different venues around town, including The Villages Charter School and seven regional recreation complexes. Competition runs through Sunday.

“Personally, I’m excited about it,” said Dale Charrette. Though the Village Rio Ranchero swimmer represented the Villages Aquatic Swim Team at last December’s Florida Senior Games, this is his first opportunity to compete on the local stage.

Charrette and wife Gail – herself a 5K competitor – will not only join their fellow athletes at Lake Sumter Landing, but plan to catch other events as time permits.

“We just want to take it all in,” he said.

As might some 600 other participants for whom the next week-plus will be their first taste of The Villages Senior Games.

“Those are all people that never competed in our Games before,” said Parkyn, noting the registration database holds over names from year to year.

“Once we register you, it’s a database that remembers you. So those are all new folks that we had to create a new record for. That’s pretty incredible.”

Then again, it has been three years. When the Games were last held, there were only four villages south of State Road 44. Now there are 14. And that doesn’t count residents who moved into the more established neighborhoods.

“It’s one way to explore, enjoy and have fun,” said Vaught, who typically juggles track, volleyball and softball and was the 2009 Florida Senior Games Athlete of the Year. “Go through the (registration) book and if you find an activity that you really enjoy, sign up to participate. ”

Vaught even takes her own advice. Today, she’ll toe the line for the horseshoes competition at Paradise Regional Recreation Center.

“I haven’t thrown a horseshoe in years, but I signed up for horseshoes,” she said. You get to meet other people in activities that you normally don’t do. ”

Vaught compared it to “field days” in elementary school, where students would try their hand at games ranging from cone races to the softball throw to kickball to tug-of-war.

“It’s our Spirit Week,” she said. “But instead of being at a school, we are a community. That’s the way I look at it. We have activities to participate in, and it gets the spirit going. ”

Track and field has the largest participation, Parkyn said, with 533 entries for 17 events across perhaps nine age divisions. That barely outpaces pickleball, which drew 505 entries in singles and doubles.

Pickleball’s growing numbers have prompted a shift in some venues, with Everglades and Ezell regional recreation complexes now part of the mix.

“We’re actually using fewer sites,” Parkyn said, “but can accommodate more folks at each site. That way we’ll have more action in more centralized areas. ”

There’s also a serious side to the competition. The Villages Senior Games serve as a qualifier for the Florida Senior Games, with berths next December for top finishers and those meeting qualifying standards.

In turn, top performers next December will earn the right to compete at next summer’s National Senior Games in Pittsburgh.

“Club tournaments have a fun atmosphere,” Borjeson said. “They are more about getting everyone involved than about winning. The Senior Games by contrast are serious. Players practice harder in the weeks leading up to the Games. ”

Charlie Campney, of The Villages Archery Club, said it’s no different on the range.

“There’s not a morning that goes by that we don’t have folks shooting,” he said. “And the week before the tournament, they’ll be there every day.”

This week also brings a unique situation in that the 2021 National Senior Games, postponed from last fall amid virus caution, will take place next month in Fort Lauderdale.

“This meet serves as a kind of primer for the national Games,” Charrette said. “It’s a great chance to see where I am today, versus where I want to be.”

Once The Villages Senior Games are over, athletes will have two weeks to fine tune before heading south to nationals.

“It doesn’t matter your sport,” Vaught said, “you’re looking to tweak so it gives you a little more at nationals.”

Senior writer Jeff Shain can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5283, or jeff.shain@thevillagesmedia.com.

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