Athletes of all nations are preparing to travel to Rio next month for the 2016 Olympics.

But at the Lebanon Senior Center last week, they didn't have to go any farther than the front lawn.

"We're doing practice shots now. Unless it's really good," explained Ailene Eby, hefting one of her sandals for the "shoe-put" competition.

"Is it OK to cheat?" asked Ray Hernandez. He sighed. "She said no. I don't take steroids or nothin'." 

Rebecca Wirfs, activities planner for the center, is always on the lookout for something fun to do with the members. She came up with a schedule of Olympic activities this week to encourage all the usual goals the center sets: physical activity, social interaction, and — perhaps most important — having fun together.

The games ended on July 28 with an awards ceremony, plus lunch provided by Bonaventure Senior Living, which sponsored the event along with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.

Wirfs arranged the schedule to reflect some of the most popular Olympic events, such as baseball, fencing, badminton and beach volleyball.

Anyone 50 or older is invited to become a senior center member, but the dozen or so competitors in last week's Olympics ranged in age from 64 to 88.

With that in mind, Wirfs' competitions were altered to put safety first. Baseball was played with beanbags, for instance, and the fencing foils were foam pool noodles. Badminton and volleyball were both played from chairs, and players were required to get the birdie or ball over the net without leaving their seat.

The seated competitions are for better balance and for providing a level playing field — literally — for players who depend on wheelchairs or scooters, Wirfs said.

Ardyce Nylund said she appreciates the attention to safety.

"Last time we did this, I went over backwards and broke my wrist," she quipped.

For track and field competitions, Wirfs designed discus throws with plastic flying discs, shotput contests with shoes and a javelin throw with the pool noodles.

"I liked the basketball," said Rhonda Jones. "We put it in a big bucket, a middle-sized bucket and a teeny tiny bucket. I took silver." 

Kathleen Koch said she particularly enjoyed the pentathlon, which featured a "Ten-Jack Dash" as one of its competitions. To win, competitors had to be the first to put 10 of the spiky toys into a bottle of Mrs. Dash seasoning.

"This is the silliest thing ever," she said, laughing. "It's so much fun." 

Wirfs said she chose the Olympics as an activities framework because the games are all about trying your hardest and never giving up, both themes the senior center encourages.

People who visit the center may be experiencing alterations in their circumstances — retirement, loss of a spouse, isolation, changes in health or in living situations — but there are plenty of ways to remain fully involved in life.

"It's not an end. It's just life changing and evolving into something new," she said. "A lot of members don't think of themselves as athletes anymore, but you can still have fun doing physical activity." 

And with games such as the "shoe-put" and foam noodle fencing, she added: "The best core workout we get around here is laughter."


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