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One Day at a Time: Oak Park offers seniors a chance to compete

SALISBURY — Veteran Jeannie Davis’ eyes were bright and wide as she crossed the finish line Thursday in Oak Park Retirement’s One Day at a Time 1 Mile Run/Walk/Wheelchair competition.

Davis grabbed a tightly contested third place in the wheelchair division.

As one of several entrants from the Hefner VA Medical Center, Davis was pushed by VA recreational therapist Terri Gilbeau. Davis is no longer able to talk, but her eyes said a lot.

“It was just nice to be a part of female camaraderie,” Gilbeau said. “Jeannie is a U.S. Navy veteran and a fine former athlete.” The VA brought the largest group of wheelchair competitors to the race.

To offer something new and beneficial to the Oak Park residents and the community as well, Activities Director Karen Leonard decided to host a run/walk/wheelchair competition. “We saw this done in Nevada and were excited from the start of planning,” Leonard said. “Oak Park and our parent company Hawthorne think that fitness is important and fun, so the idea gained momentum quickly.”

Organizers planned a double loop of the road around the facility which worked out to be almost an exact mile. Oak Park and sponsors Legacy Healthcare Services, Comfort Keepers, Salisbury Rowan Runners, Catawba College and the City of Salisbury made the event free of charge and threw in a healthy lunch, T-shirts and awards to the top finishers.

Maurine Gminder, a 91-year-old Oak Park resident, said, “This was a wonderful event, especially with the community coming together. It was nice to do something with others who don’t live here. Those Catawba College athletes were so nice, and I tried to thank as many as possible.”

For years, Catawba College athletes have visited and often competed against the Oak Park residents. Rousing soccer, baseball and volleyball matches have occurred in recent years. This time, cross country and track athletes ran and walked with or pushed the older competitors.

Jason Bryan, head cross country coach, said the team was thankful that Oak Park Retirement allowed them to be part of the day. “The team had a great time and really enjoyed their time with the retirees. We hope to be back again soon!” Forty Catawba athletes participated.

Junior All-Conference and All-Region cross-country runner Hannah Mercer added, “I had so much fun getting to know Ms. Clara (Thomason) and just spending time with her. I can honestly say I made a new friend!” Mercer and Thomason won the assisted wheelchair division.

The overall winner in the run/walk division was 70-year-old Elizabeth Kimberly. Her time of 8 minutes and 4 seconds bested the top male finisher, 71-year-old Wayne Crowder, who posted a time of 8 minutes and 30 seconds. Coach Bryan was impressed and asked both if they had any remaining college eligibility.

VA therapist Gilbeau said, “When we asked our 97-year-old participant, Gene Hobbs, if he would like to join a 1-mile race in his power chair, his eyes shone as he retold some racing stories.  From the get-go, he was intrigued by the novel idea. None of our participants saw this opportunity coming, yet each rose to the occasion fueled by the thrill of competition.”

The VA participants experienced both prerace jitters and strategizing. Each one was “in it to win it” and to cheer on the friendly competition. The veterans said it was a breath of fresh air to be out there, competing and living in the moment. One vet said he felt like a kid again.

“As a recreation therapist, this was a dream event to be a part of,” Gilbeau said. “Our job is to create opportunities for our veterans to meet new goals, to interact with the larger community and shine in their ‘golden years.’ We are very grateful to those that made this event possible.”

The event brought out the veterans’ competitive spirit and team camaraderie, she said.

“The vets are already plotting with their occupational therapists to increase the speed of their power mobility chairs for next time, so we sure hope it becomes an annual event,” she said. ” Yes, this event is a stellar opportunity to kindle motivation for continued physical activity and independence ‘One Day at A Time.’”

Steve Clark of Salisbury Rowan Runners and Salisbury Parks and Recreation was the official starter. “It was great to see our active elders have so much fun,” he said. “We just had a race a few days ago for middle schoolers and then this one today. It is the best of both worlds, getting everyone to make the most of their wellness opportunities and enjoy it so much.”

Seven competitors over 90 years old led 43 finishers.

Leonard summed it up, “This event could not have been better. As Terri mentioned, there is already a lot of talk about next year. In fact, we might not be able to wait that long.”

Complete results are posted at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org

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