National Senior Games star athletes (from left to right) Kathy Harper-Hall, Roland Waithe, Sedwin Jones and Deighton “Pa” Roach. (C.Pitt/BGIS)

In 1995, Roland Waithe was a civil servant who smoked heavily and drank alcohol, even after he was diagnosed with high blood pressure. An invitation from a friend to attend the National Senior Games in 2012 turned his life around and today the retiree is a formidable competitor on the circuit, both nationally and internationally.

On Whit Monday, June 10, he will be on the track at the 2019 National Senior Games competing in the 50, 100, 200 and 400 metre races.

He recalls: “I went to the games in 2012 as a spectator and was at the bar having a drink when I heard my name called on the public address system. My friend had signed me up for the 100 metre race. I participated and was leading until I decided to showboat, punching the air and looking at the crowd, and a guy with two bandaged knees ran past me. That was my introduction to the games.”

Then in 2013, he made the Barbados team to the Huntsman World Senior Games in Utah, United States. It was an experience on the track there which set him on the path to healthy living.

“There was this guy with a very big stomach who ran past me in the 400 metres. I mean, it was my first 400, but I argued the point, how could a man with that sort of shape beat me? And when I came back to Barbados, I made a conscious decision  and from Old Year’s Night 2013 I did not smoke or drink alcohol again.

Senior Athlete, Roland Waithe

“I was taking blood pressure medication from 1995 and I remember my uncle telling me that I would be taking those tablets till the day I die, but after dealing with a couple of herbalists and getting involved in the games I stopped taking those tablets from 2013 to the present. I get my blood pressure checked regularly and it’s normal. Today I can say going on to 64 years that I feel very healthy and very active and very competitive.”

That competitive spirit has led to him medalling not only locally but also in Utah and at the World Senior Games in Minnesota.

Roland starts preparing for the National Senior Games six months in advance, swimming, going to the gym and attending practice sessions conducted by his coach Rawle Clarke.

Diet also plays an important role. “Every month of the year I eat sweet potato and fish. That does not change except maybe on some Sundays when I may eat rice. I also find that vegetables and fruits come in handy. With this diet, I run longer, feel more energetic and have that bounce for life.”

Roland Waithe, who smoked heavily and drank alcohol, turned his life around and is now a formidable competitor on the track, both national and internationally. (C.Pitt/BGIS)

Another senior with a bounce for life is Kathy Harper-Hall who has competed at the games since the inception.

She explained that while she was an athlete throughout her school life starting in primary school, the last time she competed on the track was at university in England in 1969, before signing up for her first senior games in 2002.

Now 81, she is the grandmother of 18 and great-grandmother of 10. On Whit Monday, she will be on the track and field competing in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 metre races, the long jump, discus and standing broad jump.

Of her many years of participation, she says: “There are a lot of reasons why I come out and do this but most of all I do this for me. Everything else in my life that I do, I do for everybody else, but this one, I do for me.

“I never anticipated that in my golden years I would have been doing this but I am enjoying it and I really encourage people in my age group, as a matter of fact, from 40 up to come out  and be a part of this. It’s a lot of fun, it keeps you healthy, it keeps you strong, it makes you confident, it does everything good for you.”

Senior Athlete, Kathy Harper-Hall

The Senior Games veteran emphasized that the games were open to everyone, so that seniors who were not experienced athletes should not be reluctant to participate.

“If you cannot run, you can walk. If you can’t walk, you can take up something and throw it. You can come and do the broad jump, stand up at the front of the sand pit and jump. It doesn’t matter if you get 50 centimetres, you’ve done something. So I’m encouraging especially older people, 60 and up, to come out and take this opportunity and every opportunity to be active, to age actively and to age gracefully.”

And track and field is not the only sporting discipline at the games. This year there are a total 13 disciplines including cycling, lawn, table and road tennis, basketball, netball and archery.

Road tennis player, Deighton “Pa” Roach has been playing the game since age 12. He is now 68 and still very competitive. His advice to his peers is: “Keep exercising. I would advise anyone that reaches 45, 50, 60 to continue exercising, whether it’s road tennis, dancing, karate, judo, do something. Exercise is the thing to do to help you live longer.”

Fifty five year old Sedwin Jones, who has been cycling since the age of 16, trains for five hours a day, five times a week. (C.Pitt/BGIS)

He urged seniors to find a sport they love and sign up for the games.”Road tennis is the game I love. It’s an energetic game, it’s a thinking game. It’s a complete workout. And there are people older than me still playing like Leroy Holder who is 82 and Andrew Scantlebury who is 72.” 

Cycling is another popular sport at the annual games and when the competition comes off on May 26 on the Spring Garden Highway, Sedwin Jones will be among the field.

Sedwin, 55, has been cycling since he was 16 and has been involved with the Senior Games since he was 48.

“I train very hard, five hours a day, five days a week. I want to be on top and if you want to be on top, you have to pay attention to your training, your diet and your rest.”

Senior Games Cyclist, Sedwin Jones

A firm believer in aging actively, he looks forward to the day when he sees cyclists in their 80s and 90s still on their bikes. “I see it when we compete in Utah so I don’t see why we can’t do it in Barbados. I will stay on my bike as long as my body allows me, maybe to 100.”

His advice to Barbadians?  “We live in a time when so many people just falling down on the ground, getting sick. I find that the key is exercise and diet. If you can get into exercise, not just doing it for a season, but doing it as a lifestyle, then even though you are getting older, you will still be strong, fit and healthy.”

As we mark another edition of the National Senior Games, we would all do well to heed the advice of our seniors which is encapsulated in this statement by American physician, Dr. Kenneth Cooper: We do not stop exercising because we grow old. We grow old because we stop exercising.

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