TALLAHASSEE – Any athlete who has been on the track for the Florida Senior Games running events over the last 15 years knows Joann Sampson. She could carry the title of the “Official Greeter of the Track.” Everyone gets a hug and a “How are you doing?” from Joann.
“It’s what I do, and a lot of people know me from the Florida Senior Games,” said Sampson. “I’ve been involved since 2002, and I’ve been able to bring a lot of people into the Games. It’s a talent that I have from my years as a school teacher. I’m proud to be a Senior Athlete, and the Senior Games gives me a platform to talk about it.”
Sampson is a sprinter, from Hallandale Beach, who will run in the 50- and 100-yard dash events in Albuquerque. When she began her sprinting Senior Games journey, Sampson ran in the 60-64 age group. She now competes in the 75-79 age group.
Every other year, the athletes of the National Senior Games are extended the opportunity to experience her warm and outgoing nature as she works her way through the crowd before lining up on the starting blocks.
“I absolutely can’t wait to see all of my friends at the Games,” Sampson said. “I got a call from Perry and Gay Huff, from Jackson, Mississippi, who called me up to see if I’m coming because they want to see me. We’ve had such a great time meeting up in the past. When I went to the Mississippi Senior Games to run, they invited me to their home. One of the administrators from the Georgia Senior Games also called to see if I was coming.”
She competes at a variety of Local Senior Games around the state and has been to the Florida Senior Games in Lakeland, Fort Myers and Clearwater. Her trip to Albuquerque will be her ninth National Senior Games location since she began competing on the National level in 2003. She has traveled from Virginia Beach to Birmingham to Palo Alto and all points in between.
Through all of the travel to the National Senior Games, Sampson picked up her first medals at the 2017 Games in Birmingham. She won a silver medal in the 50-meter dash and a bronze in the 100-meter dash in the 75-79 age group. But it’s not about winning medals for her.
“I tell folks all the time, because of the Senior Games I’ve been able to travel to so many places and meet so many wonderful people,” she said. “Everyone is so nice, and they help me to improve. They tell me to ‘try this skill or try it this way’. We’re like a big family.”
A member of Sampson’s extended Senior Games family is Madelaine “Tiny” Cazel, from the Villages. Cazel and Sampson’s Florida Senior Games careers have paralleled one another as both began competing in the early 2000’s. While they are separated by an age group, the two enjoy the opportunity to catch up with one another prior to taking their marks, getting set and going.
“All the girls from Florida are great,” said Cazel. “It’s funny but we do get together at all of the meets. Joann is a warm, friendly person. She’s always inviting and it’s good to see her.”
When not at the track, Sampson volunteers regularly at a local Senior Center in Hallandale Beach and shares her medals with folks at the center. She speaks to South Florida seniors in an effort to get them up and moving in Senior Games events.
“I want to be a part of the Florida Senior Games for a long time,” she said. “I’ll decide when I’m going to become an old lady.”
Here’s hoping that decision won’t have to be made any time soon.