VA St. Louis Health Care System
Vets Hone Their Skills Locally for National Competition
The gym at Jefferson Barracks Division of the St. Louis VA Medical Center bustled with veterans giving their all for a chance to win a Gold Medal and bragging rights in the annual Olympic-style competition dubbed the Local Golden Age Games. Any veteran 55 or older can enter and compete against others of similar age in a variety of events including bowling, shuffleboard, dominos and swimming.
Some 52 athletes signed up for this year’s games that spanned three days and utilized the ample Jefferson Barracks indoor and outdoor space. Next May, St. Louis will host the National Golden Age Games where nearly 1000 veteran athletes from across the nation will converge for a week-long competition.
Some of the Local Golden Age Games athletes took part in past national games and are using these events to hone their skills for the spring. Others took the opportunity to just have a good time with friends.
John Atkins, 91, took the Silver Medal in checkers and enjoys the camaraderie with other veterans. “It’s just a bunch of nice guys you’re playing with and we do it all the time,” said Atkins who comes to the Jefferson Barracks gym three or four times a week. He is a U.S. Navy veteran who served during WWII.
Like Atkins, many veterans never lose the desire to compete and win, even after leaving the military. For retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant David Lawton, that desire peaked after narrowly finishing out of the medals in two events at the 2010 National Golden Age Games in Hawaii. Lawton, 61, missed medals in both the 50 meter backstroke and 25 meter freestyle swimming events by just half a second. That fact motivated him as he took the Gold Medal in all four events he entered.
“I’ve got to take it up a notch is year. I’m losing weight to gain speed and will start training in February,” said Lawton. “Last year was my first Golden Age Games and it was excellent. Traveling that far to compete felt like an Olympic-style games. I’m looking forward to competing again nationally and going for the gold.”
John Schmeink, a recreation therapist at the Jefferson Barracks campus and coordinator for this year’s local games, knows first hand the physical and therapeutic value of this friendly competition.
“It’s great to see so many of our veterans take part in the games. They really take pride in their events and want to win,” said Schmeink. “This is a great event for everyone involved. The veterans, the volunteers, everyone has a good time and really enjoy being together.”
St. Louis is the host city for the National Golden Age Games in May and we need both athletes and volunteers to make this the best games yet. For information about competing in or volunteering for the national games, contact Maura Campbell at 314-894-6113 or send an email to Maura.firstname.lastname@example.org
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