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Alberta's 55-plus groups await return to competition

Knowing the inherent physical, psychological and social benefits of pursuing an active lifestyle, Alberta's 55 plus groups encourage taking up a new activity and--why not?--competing in it.

Calgary's Don Everett is anxious to get back to competitive play on the golf course, but at the moment, he'd take a chance to just get together for a friendly game of darts or horseshoes. The 72-year-old president of the Calgary 55 Plus Games Association, like those in the seven other Alberta 55 plus groups around the province, is in a holding pattern, awaiting word on whether a return to sport competition will happen this summer.

"As more seniors are vaccinated against COVID-19, we remain hopeful. This year's summer games are up in the air for Calgary--we think we could get golf going--but we're confident about the winter games in Edmonton and the next provincial summer games set for 2022 in Peace River," he said. "Our bigger goal is to let 55-plus Albertans know there's opportunity for sport competition through our organization--as much competition as one wants. But we want to get the word out about the benefits of lifelong play and fitness too."

Everett laughs that though he hadn't tried playing horseshoes since he was a kid, joining Calgary 55 plus saw him take a gold medal in the pastime at the city level and even at provincials. Back in the day, government paid for competitors to travel to games around the country, he remembers, and while that isn't the case anymore, members still travel to provincial games to compete, and enjoy lunches, workshops/clinics and leadership opportunities through their local zone clubs.

 Eighty-three year-old Wendy Jerome, publicity director for Alberta 55 plus Edmonton zone, said because she's 'very competitive', she sought out the local group a few years ago so she could continue playing badminton, golf and now bridge and pickleball too. 

"I've met so many people and traveled across Canada to compete--I just love it," she said. "This gives me a chance to socialize and stay physically active--even to move into a leadership role. When you're older, it's hard to make new friends but 55 plus allows me to meet others my age and compete with my peers. It helps with mental health too--especially important since the pandemic, when so many have become isolated."

Part of the Canada 55 plus games, which offers competition at the national level, Alberta 55 plus gives members ($30 per year membership) the opportunity to take part in some of the 30 winter and summer activities: skiing, athletics, bocce, carpet bowling, bridge, cycling, curling, pool, swimming, tennis and many more. Offerings like art, creative writing and scrabble mean there's something for any age and any mobility level. As 55 plus clubs don't have a dedicated space for activities, membership dues and funds from regular casino events help offset facility rental costs at community centres, swimming pools and the local legion.

With a mission to promote lifelong fitness through active living, it's understandable hundreds of 55 Plus members around the province are raring to get back to playing and competing. Jerome said member groups in slo-pitch, pickleball and hockey are thriving, but even those competing in table shuffleboard, bridge and track and field (some still at it in their 90s) want to pursue their favourite sports too.

"Try something you've never done before, that's a challenge for your mind, body and spirit," adds Calgary 55 plus membership director Yvonne Armstrong. "You'll play against those in your own age category--usually 55-plus and 70-plus--and we'll train you. It's the ideal mix of sport, competition and fun."

Edmonton 55 plus past president Marshall Yaremcio, 85, said after returning from working up north years back, he immediately joined the group that he calls "more cameraderie than competition--well, if you belong to a pickleball club, then it's competition." Trying golf, cross-country skiing, bridge, cycling and yes, even pickleball through the years, Yaremcio says he's already played a few rounds of golf this year and is going to try and win another medal when competition resumes.

"It's motivating to get a medal and to travel to compete," he said. "Though most of us are retired, we still need to keep active and social--mentally and physically."

For more information on upcoming activities or to join, see alberta55plus.ca