Basketball Keeps Seniors Fit

Valencia Mohammed | 8/5/2009, 6:51 p.m.

Little did Jeannie Winston know when she stepped in for an absent teammate on her daughter€s basketball team four years ago, that it would launch her career as a basketball player and help to slow down the onset of osteoporosis, as well.

Winston€s daughter, Mara Winston-Graham, 36, had recruited her mother to play for the Holy Redeemer Mother€s Basketball League to prevent forfeiting the game.

€At first, I thought, I know what to do from practicing drills with my daughter, but I€m too old,€ said Winston, 72.

Nonetheless, the spry senior was cheered-on by team mates and surprised everyone with her agility and skills.

Winston said people in the stands expected the little-old white-haired woman to crawl up and down the court. That wasn€t the case. Minutes later, Winston shocked the crowd by scoring consecutive three-pointers.

€Kill her. Kill her,€ the crowd chanted.

That€s when Winston went in to warp speed. The heat was on and she decided that she no longer wanted to sit on the sidelines; she preferred the adrenaline charged, fast-paced thrill of the game.

That€s what doctors like to hear.

Dr. Daniel Poku-Dankwah, a physician at Providence Hospital in Northeast, said that when seniors actively engage in sports, it improves their upper body strength, makes them limber, improves heart rate, helps decrease joint pain and slows down the onset of osteoporosis.

€We€ve noticed that more and more Baby Boomers are becoming athletic as they age. It€s better than sitting around,€ Dankwah said.

Winston, who lives in Northwest, joined the Northern Virginia Senior Women€s Basketball Association in 2005. Shortly thereafter, she said that she was asked to leave the league due to insurance risks. Today, she and other seniors are in the process of forming their own team. Winston encourages women who live in the District to start their own senior women€s basketball teams.

€Who says we have to sit all day and play cards. Let€s play basketball and other sports too,€ Winston said.

€Many people think when you turn 50, you€re supposed to disappear. Well, look at me; I lost 30 pounds and I enjoyed playing basketball [and that€s how I did it],€ she said.

Vanecia Davis, director of the Lamond Recreation Center in Northeast, a Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) Senior Services Program Center, is helping the D.C. senior Basketball team to start a league of their own. Davis, 24, said that she hopes every quadrant of the District forms its own team next year.

€We want to steer more seniors from Bible Bingo tables. We want their lives to be more active as they age,€ Davis said after playing a couple of 15-minute basketball games with the seniors.

€These women can play,€ said Davis who was totally winded.

Denise King-Miller, 59, recently joined the D.C. team. She said that she wants to be €fit and fabulous€ by her next birthday.

€We€re just waiting for more women to sign up,€ she said.

Sue Barnes, a senior athletic instructor for the United Planning Organization at DPR€s Fort Davis Community Center in Southeast, started a health fitness exercise club for seniors 10 years ago. Barnes, who also competes each year in the track and field category in the D.C. Golden Olympic games, said that she brought Juanita Conley to Lamond Recreation Center to try out for the team.

Conley, 58, hit the court running. She dribbled. She passed the ball off handily to her team mates and scored from the line.

Barnes, 81, also participated in the drills. She said that she was both impressed and excited.

€We should be taking a team to the Nationals.€

For further information about Senior Women€s Basketball in the District, call 202-576-9541.