TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With 29 years and tens of thousands of athletes participating in the annual Florida Senior Games over that time, athletes age 50 and over have turned in some remarkable performances, in this Olympic-style Sports Festival.

These Great Moments show the dedication and passion the athletes have for, not only their sport, but for a healthy and active lifestyle.  They come from both men and women, from the 50s age groups into the 90s age groups and from athletes who may have been involved in a sport all of their lives or who have picked it up recently.

Whatever it is, they do it, more power to them and keep up the good work!

This is the third installment of more Great Moments of the Florida Senior Games.  Look for the final installment next week.

Pickleball Ironman of the 2015 Games
Mike Welter, of Cape Coral, was one of the last people to leave the Long Center, in Clearwater, on all three days of the 2015 Pickleball event.  He won a men’s singles gold on Friday, a mixed doubles gold on Saturday and a men’s doubles silver on Sunday. More than 35 hours of Pickleball was played from Friday morning through Sunday night and Welter was present for the majority of those hours.

Down 7-0 in the tie-breaking set of the Men’s Singles Gold Medal match in the 60-64 age group, Welter called a time out.  He leaned against the gym wall as if he was winded or injured.

Upon returning to play, he scored the next 12 points and outscored his opponent, Michael Thaler, of Briny Breezes 15-1 to win the third game 15-8 after splitting the first two games.

“I had to change the momentum,” said Welter. “He was dominating.  I was just hoping something would open up.”

He teamed with Bobbi Little of North Fort Myers to advance out of a 23-team mixed doubles bracket in the 60-64 age group for the gold medal. Playing together for the first time in the Florida Senior Games, Little and Welter defeated Nancy Meyer, of Fort Myers and Randy Hall, of Willmar, MN in straight sets in the championship match.

On the final day in Men’s Doubles, he and his partner, Darryl Noble, of Hanover, PA, dropped their first match of the day to Gary Miller and Steve Wojcik.  They held on for six elimination matches for a return match in the gold medal game but he and Noble came up short 11-9, 11-6.

Welter played five singles matches Friday, five mixed doubles matches Saturday and eight men’s doubles on Sunday – 18 total matches.

Ruth Parker Battles Opponents and Injury for 2009 National Senior Games Gold
Behind all of the accomplishments achieved on the field of play, whether it’s a ceremonial medal, a record-breaking performance or a personal best, there’s an equally compelling story that can be found off the field.

Take for instance, Ruth Parker, an 85-year old shuffleboard player from Sebring, who was making her first trip to the National Senior Games in the San Francisco Bay area in 2009.

No matter how she fared on the court against the other three competitors in the 85-89 age group, Parker had already earned a gold medal before she pushed her first disc into the triangle.

A mother of four girls and two boys, she had the most attentive following, as all six of her children and her husband of 65 years were all at the Games to show her support.

Ruth and Art Parker spent roughly 30 years supporting the sporting efforts of each of their six children ranging in ages from 44 to 62.  Football, basketball, softball, baseball, swimming, field hockey, you name it.  The Parker kids played it.  Now here they were at the Stanford University West Campus Tennis Courts hanging on to every shot their mother took.

“It really has come full circle,” said her oldest son, Art, 62, who was a high school football coach in their home state of Pennsylvania for 25 years.  “She and our dad were our biggest fans growing up and now here we are, her biggest fans.”

Each of the five children, their spouses and one grandchild in attendance for Ruth’s first competition moved from one vantage point to another to find the best view of their mother among all of the players on the six courts.  They all wore “Go Ruth,” buttons.  One of the six was staying home with their father but would be there the next day.

After the competition, Ruth and Art were celebrating their 65th Anniversary in a rented house in the hills of Pacifica where, “people were sleeping all over the place,” according to Ruth.

If traveling across the country to compete wasn’t enough pressure on the shuffleboard player from Sebring, nagging back spasms were also taking their toll on Ruth.  She started experiencing the pains two weeks before the National Senior Games but was determined to play through the pain.

“I was hurting so bad I even thought for a moment about not coming out to play today,” she said after her match.  “But I made up my mind to come out and at least start playing.  If I had to forfeit during the match, then I would.  But I had to at least make an effort.”

It was because of her cheering section and support group assembled from various parts of the country that gave her the determination to make the effort.

Her back was in such pain before leaving the morning of a pool play match, one of her children even had to put her socks and shoes on for her.  “Now that’s a true reversal of roles,” she admitted.  “I wanted to get out and play today not for myself but because everyone was here together. I don’t know which I’m prouder of, being here playing or having everyone here.”

On a day where Ruth Parker could not even sit-down during competition for fear of her back tensing up, she struggled through the first 10 of the 12 frames of her shuffleboard game, managing only eight points.  She was having a hard time pushing the discs across the court and was coming up short on the majority of her shots.

In the final two frames, she rallied and scored 39 points to finish with 47, the second highest total in her group of four players.

As she came off of the court, she apologized for what she considered a not so spectacular performance.  Her cheering section, training staff and support group would hear none of it.  There were hugs and high fives to be passed around.

“Mom and Dad always stressed sportsmanship to us,” said daughter Linnie.  “It was never about winning and losing.”

While Ruth Parker went on to win the Women’s 85-89 age group gold medal, she had already turned in a gold medal winning performance in the preliminary round and in life.

Nearly Two Centuries of Experience on the Tennis Courts
The Florida Gulf Coast University Tennis Courts featured the two oldest athletes of the Florida Senior Games in singles competition as 195 years combined played a 75-minute match in 2009.

100-year old Roger Gentilhomme, of Dunedin and 95-year old James Kales, of Bonita Springs, each earned gold medals since they were the only athletes in their age group.  Kales won the match 6-2, 5-3 before Gentilhomme retired in the second set.

“I started feeling like I was stumbling and got dizzy,” said Gentilhomme after playing for more than an hour in the mid-afternoon with temperatures near or above 80. “It was a sure sign that something was happening.”

After sitting down with cold towels over his head for 10 minutes or so, he got up and told his collection of friends who had gathered to encourage him, “I’m sorry I didn’t live up to your expectations.”  He was assured they were not disappointed.

Gentilhomme recalled having to retire due to heat only one other time, “a match 25 years ago in Sarasota.”

The two had played one another before in National Senior Games competitions but not in the Florida Senior Games State Championships.  Both were in singles bowling on two days earlier and each set records in their respective age groups.  Both men had one more sport left on their calendars as Gentilhomme competed in Shuffleboard and Kales was in Track and Field events the following weekend.

Pickleball Champion Continues Success in Table Tennis
Deb Harrison, of The Villages, a fixture at the Senior Games medal stand, followed up her three gold-medal winning performance in Pickleball over the weekend with another three gold-medal winning Table Tennis performance.

For the 2010 Florida Senior Games, Harrison decided to give Table Tennis a try after winning over 15 Pickleball medals since 2005.  She started the day with a Women’s Doubles gold medal, with partner Mardee Goldberg, and followed up with a Mixed Doubles gold medal, with partner John Shank.

The Women’s Singles gold medal in the 60-64 age group proved to be the toughest.  Her semifinals match against Geraldine Lesser, of The Villages, went to five games with four of the game scores being 12-10.  The Championship Match against three-time gold medalist in the 55-59 age group, Nancy Dorsey, of Brooksville, also went five games.  Harrison lost the first game 12-10, rebounded to win the next two 11-7, 11-8, dropped the fourth game 11-9 and won the fifth and final game 11-6.

In the championship match, Dorsey was clearly the aggressor, while Harrison returned the hard shots sent her way.  “That’s about all I could do,” Harrison said.  “She made a lot of errors on those smash shots.”

Robert Nichols 67 golf score in 2008
Robert Nichols, of Englewood, shot a five-under par 67 at The Golf Club at Magnolia Landing setting a new all-time low score in the 17-year history of the Florida Senior Games in 2008.  The previous low was 68 shot on four different occasions and Nichols becomes the sixth golfer in the history of the Games to card a score under 70.

The 52-year old Nichols posted a 33 on the front nine, with a birdie on the par 3 second hole and an eagle on the par 5 ninth hole. His score of 34 on the back nine included a birdie on a par four 17th hole and a second eagle on a par five 18th hole.

His eagle on the 485-yard ninth hole was set up by a 325-yard drive, followed by a nine-iron shot onto the green eight inches from the cup.  On the 472-yard 18th hole, Nichols began with a 280-yard drive, followed by a seven-iron shot to the green.  He sunk a 25-foot putt on his final shot of the day.

“I had some flashes of brilliance today,” said Nichols, who played collegiate golf at Pensacola Junior College and the University of Toledo.  “The birdies made up for the two bogeys when I three putted a couple of times.”

Nichols boasted a +2 handicap but says his claim to fame are 27 holes-in-one he has made during his golfing career.  He was urged to participate in the Florida Senior Games State Championships by his father, Robert Nichols, Sr., a former Florida Senior Games athlete who competed in swimming and racquetball.