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D.C. Seniors Recognized for Athletic Abilities

6/5/2013, 4 p.m.
Tony Diamond (left) and Bernard Gibson congratulate each other on being crowned winners during the 30th annual closing ceremony of the D.C. Senior Games at Deanwood Recreation Center in Northeast on May 20. Photo by Roy Lewis

Today, seniors are enjoying life to the fullest, and many jump head-on into new activities that they’ve never tried before. That’s the case for one District of Columbia senior who learned to swim for the first time in early May.

“I like the water, to play in it,” said Althea Black, 60, a Ward 8 resident. “I can float but I never learned how to swim.” She tried to swim when she was a young teen but the results proved to be disastrous.

“I was thrown into the water by the instructor but I was afraid,” she recalled. She got about half-a-yard from the edge of the pool but had to be scooped out by the instructor with a stick.

However, on May 20, Black proudly sported a bronze medal for placing third in the backstroke competition at the closing ceremony of the 30th annual D.C. Senior Games at the Deanwood Recreation Center in Northeast.

“I learned to swim less than two weeks ago,” said Black, who practiced at the Ferebee-Hope Aquatic Center in Ward 8. “My coach said if I could get (third) place in that (fast) a time after only two weeks, I can be ready for next year.”

Black was a competitor at the District’s annual senior games between May 6 and May 13, where participants who are over 50 years old competed in more than 15 sporting events, including aquatics, track and field, basketball, ping pong and other games at different recreation centers around the city.

On May 20, many athletes enjoyed the closing ceremony hosted by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), in partnership with the D.C. Office on Aging.

The games provided an excellent method for seniors to maintain or improve their physical agility while enjoying competition and camaraderie, said DPR director, Jesus Aguirre.

“You’re incredible athletes, we applaud your dedication and love for your sport,” said Aguirre at the closing ceremony where the seniors received gold, silver and bronze medals and trophies. “DPR provides our senior adults access to various events, programs and services for healthy living and a higher quality of life. This is extremely important as seniors are healthier and living longer.”

Many of the athletes received a large number of medals. Hudie Fleming, a Ward 7 resident, picked up 11 gold medals and one silver, all for aquatics.

“I used to swim for Howard University, back in the 1960s,” said Fleming, 73, a Hillcrest resident who’s been retired for 19 years. Five years ago he began swimming again for health reasons, and he found out about the senior games, also known as the senior olympics.

“I’ve been a champion four years in a row,” he pointed out.

Fleming has qualified to join other senior athletes at the 2013 National Senior Games in Cleveland, Ohio in July.

The annual competition brings together elderly residents from across the District to participate in athletic activities that promote healthy living for a long, more robust life. Approximately, 120 athletes competed against each other, with 62 qualifying for the national games.

Joining the roster heading to Ohio is the six-time gold National Senior Games medalist, John Tatum, who at 94 years old, picked up three gold medals and one silver in swimming at the D.C. qualifying games. The native Washingtonian recently lost his brother, Bradford, who he credited for getting him interested in swimming competitions.

"I have to carry on with my fitness. I'm happy to still be doing things, but it's been hard,” said Tatum at the May 6 opening of the senior games at the Howard Theater in Northwest. He was one of three athletes from the metro area who received personal best awards from the National Senior Games Association, the 28-year-old nonprofit dedicated to motivating active adults to lead healthy lifestyles through the senior games movement.

Ms. Senior D.C. Mary McCoy summed up the competition aptly.

“You don’t have to be better than everybody else,” said McCoy who addressed the audience at the closing ceremony, “but you have to be better than you believe you [can] be.”