Senior Games showcases top athletes

Max Coffey, of the Village of Pine Hills, attempts a return in mixed pickleball action during last year’s Senior Games.

Run, jump, swim.

Swing, bounce, dink. Roll, throw, shoot.

If it’s something athletes can do competitively, Villagers will be doing it this week at The Villages Senior Games.

The annual sports festival returns this weekend for its 20th edition, starting Sunday morning with archery and bowling and finishing April 23 with volleyball and track and field events.

“It’s a very big event,” said Lisa Parkyn, lifestyle events coordinator for The Villages Recreation and Parks. “It brings a lot of awareness to how active our community is — and even the surrounding areas, because people from outside The Villages want to get a look at our facilities.”

The showcase keeps getting bigger, faster. Some 1,880 athletes signed up for last year’s Games, when the event ended its two-year COVID hiatus. Registration for this year’s edition has soared past 2,400, Parkyn said, with many of them first-time participants.

“Last year, I had 660 brand new registrations,” she said. “This year I took the (database) and we had 700 new people I had to put in.”

One of last year’s new entrants was Dale Charrette, president of The Villages Aquatic Swim Club. Charrette and dozens of his teammates will compete against and support each other Wednesday and Thursday during the swimming competition at Laurel Manor Recreation.

“Once I got here on the team, I got really involved and, before you know it, I was president and it just seemed like the natural thing to do once I joined the team,” said Charrette, of Village Rio Ranchero. “If you’re on VAST, you’re pretty much doing Senior Games.”

While organizers at The Villages Recreation & Parks love seeing new athletes at the Games, they also await many long-time competitors.

“I just always look forward to seeing long-time residents or participants that I and the rest of our staff don’t necessarily see throughout the rest of the year, but we love seeing them at the events,” Parkyn said. “It’s like a mini-reunion.”

For many Villagers, the Senior Games are a staple on their calendar. Mary Kozlowski is participating for the eighth time and will compete in three different pickleball formats — singles, ladies’ doubles and mixed doubles.

“It’s an awesome event and I really look forward to it every year,” the Village of Osceola Hills resident said. “The Villages does an excellent job of running the Senior Games.”

For many residents and local athletes from outside the community, the Senior Games are a target — an event to prepare for in their everyday training.

VAST’s calendar is effectively centered around the festival, starting with conditioning in September, sprint training through the winter and tapering down in the lead-up to the Games.

“You’re priming yourself to have your best race of the year,” Charrette said. “That and all the stuff we do for the week creates this energy that takes over the club, more or less.”

And placing well at the local Games will qualify athletes for the Florida Senior Games, set for December in Pasco County near Tampa.

One way in which the Senior Games differ from some usual formats is that fields are broken down by age group instead of competition level, which is standard for pickleball.

“One interesting thing is that every year you compete, you’re a year older, so it’s different every time you play,” Kozlowski said. “You could be in a different age bracket with different opponents and you’re another year older, so it gets harder.”

With the abundance of competition and camaraderie, it’s a small wonder so many people circle Senior Games week on their calendar.

“It almost becomes our Super Bowl,” Charrette said. “A lot of people participate in this one and there’s a lot of team spirit.”

Senior writer Drew Chaltry can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5233 or at