By Dan Ninham
The National Senior Games Association (NSGA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to motivating active adults to lead a healthy lifestyle through the senior games movement. NSGA Member Organizations hold annual games with qualifying competitions in the year preceding the National Games. Athletes that meet specific criteria while participating in the State Senior Games qualify to participate at the national level.
The Minnesota Senior Games, a 20 plus sport, annual competition for men and women 50 and over, is a statewide competition but also brings in athletes from all over the country. Visit Greater St. Cloud was proud to host the 2023 Minnesota Senior Games August 3-6, 2023.
The MN Native Elder Games organization is an extension of the state and national senior games. According to Diane Grooms (Leech Lake Ojibwe), she is the chair of the MN Native Elder Games. “You could call me the chair because I organize,” said Grooms.
Grooms met Jim Ingle in 2018 and planning began to encourage native elders to participate in physical activities and to compete at the state and national levels. Ingle was the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Fitness Coordinator. Ingle participated in five National Senior Games and was on the board of the Minnesota Senior Games.
“I met with Jim Ingle, who worked with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, back in 2018 about the Senior Games,” said Grooms. “I wanted to participate for myself but our conversation turned to adding other elders. That’s how this all got started.”
The MN Native Elder Games focuses on redefining the quality of life and healthy aging for Native elders in Minnesota through education, fitness, prevention, and healthy fun competition.
“The Native Elder Games was Jim’s vision. And unfortunately, we lost Jim in February 2022 from Covid. We miss him terribly,” added Grooms.
Grooms said, “Our vision is to establish a Native Elders team and program at each of the eleven reservations in Minnesota and have an annual/bi-annual Native Elders Games Day where they can socialize and compete against each other.”
“We hope by providing events to look forward to and participate in that the elders will work on their physical activity on their own time,” said Grooms.
“Our priority for our elders is to have fun, learn about their limitations and their goals, then participate in events, and progress from workshop to Native Elder Games Days, then to the yearly MN Senior Games, and to the bi-yearly National Senior Games,” added Grooms.
“We will encourage and assist with each reservation to have their own Native Elder Games team that will compete in a Native Elder Games Day and other Senior Games events,” said Grooms.
This year Grooms could not participate due to a medical issue. “The upside of this is I got to watch my other teammates because of scheduling of events I would miss being able to be present,” said Grooms.
“I especially enjoyed watching this year because I had some new fresh rookies,” said Grooms. “And of course I am hoping they had a blast and will be returning. It was fun cheering everyone on and just relaxing instead of running between events.”
“I loved watching Gladys Sandland giggle all through her shuffleboard match,” said Grooms. “She would sit down, put her hand to her mouth and giggle.”
Gladys Sandland (Leech Lake Ojibwe) said, “This was the first time I played shuffleboard in front of people, I didn’t know what to expect, it wasn’t what I expected but I did have fun.”
The senior athletes had a variety of positive highlights participating in this recent past event.
“Traveling to sites, getting to know others that compete, gaining confidence, competing with others my age and being native were positive highlights,” said Carol Bell (Cherokee).
Carmen Oliver (Red Lake Nation) said her positive times were because of “the great comradery that happened and the event being on time for games.”
“Everything was on time, people were very helpful,” said Jon O’Brien (White Earth Ojibwe).
Debra Rojas (Leech Lake Ojibwe) said “Seeing other people that we see every year and meeting new people.”
“Seeing all the native athletes from other states, meeting the astronaut who is a senior bowler, seeing all athletes participate in all events – winning a bronze medal in women’s 60-64 doubles cornhole – sightseeing – jazz festival – art fair – so many native elders participate and work on good health and wellness,” said Rojas.
The 11 member team earned 18 medals in St. Cloud this past August. These recent state games is a non-qualifying year for the national’s competition. The qualifying state games are held in odd years and the national games are held in even years. However due to the pandemic, the 2021 national senior games were postponed to July 7-18, 2023 in Pittsburgh, PA. They are back on schedule now.
The 2024 MN Senior Games is a qualifying year and will be in St. Cloud again. The National Senior Games will be in 2025 in Des Moines, IA.
“It’s a good year for new elders to compete and experience the games,” said Grooms.
“We would love to have a big bus full of elders going to Des Moines,” said Grooms. “The events we participate in are archery, bowling, cornhole, shuffleboard, swimming, powerwalk, and track and field.”
The legacy of the late Jim Ingle is continuing to encourage seniors to strive to be their best in the state and national senior games.