TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – When Winter Haven’s Betty Harstad decides to do something, folks are going to know it.
While winning Basketball Shooting gold medals at the 2019 Florida Senior Games, besides her blue Games shirt, her accessories included hoop earrings, multiple rings on her fingers and a silver watch.
When not in motion on the basketball court, she was providing encouragement to fellow athletes in her distinct North Carolina accent.
“A body in motion stays in motion,” Harstad likes to say.
She was in motion at the 2020 Polk Senior Games competing in bag toss and basketball shooting, once again, along with billiards, horseshoes, punt, pass and kick, several dance events and pistol shooting in the 80-84 age group. She was unable to compete in the darts and speed walk events.
Once the Games ended and local sports and events came to a halt due to the threat of the coronavirus, she was home cooking and canning. She and her niece took a break after completing 15 quarts of tomatoes, five quarts of salsa and a few quarts of strawberry jam.
The Polk Senior Games are one of the few Local Series Qualifiers that offer Dance competitions. Harstead and a younger partner, Jeff Slaten, entered in four events, the Electric Slide, Fox Trot, Two Step and Jitterbug.
“If you’ve got three left feet, we can teach you to dance,” Harstad said. “Dancing is like swimming. It keeps the elderly mobile.”
Harstad was quick to point out she’s not elderly though.
Slaten, her dance partner, is a truck driver with a busy schedule. After one evening of practice, he and Harstad took to the floor, for 90 seconds of dancing in each of the four events.
“Everyone could see he wasn’t a dancer,” Harstad said with a laugh. “Dancing is a healthy and frightening thing to do, and people are frightened of things they don’t know. But he tried. He showed up, and we gave it a shot.”
Betty also gave pistol shooting a shot at the Polk Senior Games, where she completed three rounds of 10 shots of slow fire, timed fire and rapid fire.
“I would have done the skeet shooting as well but the kickback of the shotgun bothers my shoulder,” she said.
It must have been quite a sight to see Harstad lined up behind a football on a tee at the Punt, Pass and Kick competition.
Returning for the competition in 2020 was a daunting one for her since she hurt her knee in the kicking competition in 2019.
“I couldn’t walk for three days afterwards,” she said. “It was kind of embarrassing to go to the doctor and say I hurt myself playing football.”
Once the Games wrapped up, Harstad finished with a combined total of 18 medals, with 10 gold, five silver and three bronze.
“She’s a lot of fun and a sweet lady,” said Claudette Braswell, a fellow 80-84 age group athlete who competed alongside Harstad in several different events. “She was telling me about her dance partner and how she guided him on what to do and how they did. She’s going to have him back again next year.”
Harstad came to Winter Haven in 1996 from Virginia after working in a variety of corporate situations. She has lived in her current residence for the past 15 years and became a new mother when one of her daughters passed away.
“My youngest daughter is actually my granddaughter,” she said. “But that’s what I call her since I raised her from the time she was in 10th grade.”
Competing in the Florida Senior Games and the Polk Senior Games allows Harstead to stay as active as possible. She enjoys the age group competitions, especially in the dance events.
“By no means is this Dancing with the Stars,” she admits. “Age is not a hindrance. Minor disabilities are not a hindrance. It’s fun. Everybody should try it.”
She’s right. Everyone should try it. But bringing it to Betty Harstad-like level is going to take some extra effort.
About the Florida Senior Games presented by Humana
The Florida Senior Games presented by Humana are presented annually by the Florida Sports Foundation (FSF), the state’s lead sports promotion and development organization, and a division of Enterprise Florida, Inc. The Foundation works in conjunction with a variety of local sports industry partners to present the different competitions. The Florida Senior Games, presented by Humana, an annual amateur sports tradition in Florida, is part of the state’s $57.4 billion sports industry that accounts for 580,000 jobs statewide.