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August 10. 2013 10:29PM

Fun for the over-50 set

Granite State Senior Games offer opportunities for fun, fitness


Irene Bigelow of Concord celebrates a strike while bowling in the Granite State Senior Games at Lakeside Lanes in Manchester on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

The Granite State Senior Games continue to offer an athletic environment of fun, fellowship and fitness for the 50-plus set in New Hampshire.

But while there are hundreds of seniors taking part in the games, which began earlier this month and run through Aug. 25 (including the 5k and 10k road races today at 9 a.m. at 915 Holt Ave.), chairman Jim Eddinger said he wishes more newcomers would join.

"Our mission is to keep the senior community off the couch and out there being active," said Eddinger, 72. "We seem to miss on our mission a little bit because it's the same people who are out there that come back every year to participate."

The National Senior Games Association held the national games in Cleveland in late July and early August. The NSGA holds the national event every other year, which means that the current GSSG events are non-qualifying events.

Eddinger said that factor keeps numbers down since many athletes may be coming back from the national games and need rest or will wish to participate next year in a qualifying event.

"Our numbers are down as they always are in a non-qualifying year," he said. "We have about 300 participants this year. In non-qualifying years in the past we've had 400 or so and in a qualifying year we get 500 to 600."Eddinger said there is a movement from the NSGA to get more seniors out and active, even if it is just to take a walk. He also said that locally, the GSSG puts on clinics to get athletes involved and working toward the annual events here in New Hampshire.

According to Eddinger, there have been discussions about making the national games an annual event, but the strain on the athletes and the state organizations was deemed too much. Donations and volunteers would be harder to come by on an annual basis, Eddinger said.

The GSSG canceled three events this month, but Eddinger said that only one (basketball) was due to a lack of interested athletes. The other two cancellations were swimming and cycling, both of which were scrapped due to the extra cost of timing services that would be required.

Meanwhile, track and field remains a strong sport and pickleball continues to pick up enthusiasts.

"Track and field, usually we have 130 or 140 participants even in a non-qualifying year. But that's down below 100 this year," Eddinger said. "But pickleball has picked up every year for the past three years that we've been having it and this year we're at 75 (participants). I would say track and field is probably going to be taken over by pickleball next year."

Invented in 1965 in Washington, pickleball is a hybrid of badminton, tennis and Wiffle ball played on a court with a net and wooden paddles.

"It's growing so fast in the area. Pickleball has been around for 40 years but it wasn't until the last few years that it's caught on in the east coast," Eddinger said. "Back in 2010 I came on as an ambassador and started the game in Manchester. It just blossomed through word of mouth."

While fitness and fun are among the goals, fellowship is also important to the Senior Games, Eddinger said.

"People come back every year and look for people they've met in the past," he said. "All of our games are a good at helping with the social aspect of life."

There will be a social mixer at the Puritan Back Room on Friday. Tickets for that event and a full list of the remaining sports can be found at nhseniorgames.org.

iclark@unionleader.com


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