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Ladies soar at seniors' games

For the first time in 37 years I picked up a discus. It's that frisbee like throwing implement that is one of the field events held at track meets. It felt great to have it in my hands again.
Some of the lady throwers 55 to 69 years old at the 2018 55+ BC Games right after competing in the shot put Friday morning. From right Yvonne Dribblee, Nola Hendrie, Christine Hinzmann (back row), Joyce Essex, Marlene Johnston (back row), Joan Harris and Terri Jones.

For the first time in 37 years I picked up a discus. It's that frisbee like throwing implement that is one of the field events held at track meets.

It felt great to have it in my hands again.

I decided as part of a boost to my fitness goals I would add major incentive - to be a competitor at the 2018 55+ BC Games - that's the new name for the Senior Games.

It was an amazing event held last week in Cranbrook where approximately 2,500 participants gathered to compete in 28 different events.

You couldn't wipe the smile off my face - even seconds before I put the shot, as I walked away from throwing the javelin, and especially during the athletes' parade into the stadium during the opening ceremonies.

Because I am not at my peak physical condition by any means and the decision to compete was rather impulsive I was not sure what to enter. I knew I could enter discus and shot put, but even as a teenager the javelin - the spear - was never something I could chuck any kind of distance. And the hammer throw? Well, I had never laid a hand on one before. Back in the day girls weren't allowed to throw that thing.

But now as an out-of-shape just turned 55-year-old, I was handed a three-kilogram metal ball on a 42-inch wire attached to a metal handle that I was supposed to fling over my head five times and let go.

I thought to myself - what could possibly go wrong?

I have to admit there were a couple of wild throws and one in particular scared the bejeezus outta me. My off-centre throw landed at the feet of my illustrious coach Tom Masich. My heart stopped. He blinked and told me to throw it again. I made sure from then on he was behind the wire mesh for his own protection and my peace of mind.

Coach Masich is a man after my own heart. When I told him that I hated the javelin and it hated me his response was if I hated the javelin and it hated me, then the rest of the throwing implements were pointless - and I didn't get it.

When he said it a second time - I immediately felt I was talking to a kindred spirit.

I love his sense of humour and the smile that inevitably comes right after the punchline. His wisdom he shares so freely saw gains in distances like I had never thought possible and I am so very grateful to him for his guidance and look forward to working with him again next season.

Not knowing what to expect coming into any competition there was a lot of trepidation as I made my way to my first competition at the games, the javelin. I was early because I was scared and so I took it all in with a pounding heart. You can see the fear on my face as my man Bob captured the moment with his camera before the competition.

Rules were explained and then explained again. Two of us were newbies and Joan Harris was not only at the competition but also practiced with me weeks before the meet. Both the newbies were from Prince George, you see. Somehow that made it easier.

As the competition started and one athlete was up, one on deck, and one retrieving, it all went very quickly. I knew I was embarrassingly weak at this event but you'd never know it by the reaction of the other competitors. The women who throw things who are between the ages of 55 and 69 all compete in a group. There are applause for each competitor, words of encouragement, and quickly the leaders are established. I threw poorly for two throws, nailed a good one - for me - and fouled out on one.

We turned to each other, encouraged each other and consoled each other. It's quite a different animal than when I competed as a teenager in Ontario. We were taught not to fraternize with our competitors. Mostly you'd get dirty looks, and sometimes snotty remarks were made. It was a hostile environment back then. I was always so disappointed about that.

In a school of 2,500 students in Newmarket, Ont., I was the only female thrower that went beyond the school's meet. I made it to the Ontario championship and came fifth in discus. I could never figure out why the other competitors wouldn't want to talk to someone like-minded. Nobody else in my world understood how much I loved to throw things. But they did. But wouldn't talk to me. Go figure.

In the field at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, 37 years later, I found my community of throwers. Women who loved the sport. Women who have been through life, accepted all the challenges that come their way and still show up to compete in 6 C in the pouring rain and smile.

Terri Jones took one look at me as I approached the cage where we'd throw the hammer and grabbed my number out of my fumbling fingers, looked up at me, smiled, and said she could never pin these things on straight. She read me like a book. For whatever reason, I was out of sorts, and kindness from the record-breaking thrower was extremely welcome.

During the competition, participant Marlene Johnston saw something another participant, Joyce Essex, was doing wrong. She took Joyce aside, offered her technique fine-tuning and suddenly Joyce was throwing like she never had before. From her first season to her third Joyce had doubled her throwing distance. The smile on her face brought goose bumps because as we're aging we aren't supposed to get better but we are.

As the hammer throw concluded the official who was measuring the throws came to me to tell me everything I was doing wrong. I cherish the advice she gave me and I will carry it forward into my training and throwing technique for next year.

Before the shot put competition we were all doing our practice throws. The official offered critiques on our technique. As I stepped into the circle, she walked by me and winked. I laughed. Delighted with the camaraderie, the support, the encouragement. It was my best throw. I did it with a smile on my face. I did a weird little curtsie thing to avoid stepping out of the ring and fouling out. I knew it was a good throw. I could feel it the second I released the shot.

I proudly took gold and when they announced the distance I ran to hug my sister, who came all the way from Ontario with her husband to support me. The throw was my personal best. After that I was immediately called the huggie girl and I loved it.

The ladies who throw at the games are a remarkable bunch of women. Those lines on their faces are well earned. Yvonne Dibblee is a farmer who throws the javelin a couple of times on her way to collect the eggs in the morning. She throws hay bales. She doesn't need to train. She's a champion and quickly reminds me that everyone has had their challenges in the past, some as recent as a few months ago and still they show up to throw with their friends.

An official stopped us at the end of a competition to commend us on our show of support and camaraderie as we compete against each other. She said the men before us were silent.

It wasn't nearly as much fun.

Joyce Essex made quite a statement when she confessed that when she first joined a masters track and field club she was practicing but wouldn't go into any competitions. With tears in her eyes she admitted she didn't think she was good enough and above all she didn't want to disappoint her team mates. That's why she wouldn't compete. As we shared an emotional moment together, with her hand resting on my arm she looked into my eyes and told me walking into that circle and giving it her all was the best thing she could ever do in her retirement. It didn't matter what it said on that tape measuring the distance of her throw. She was doing it, she was proud to be there and she loved all those ladies who make up the community of women throwers aged 55 to 69.

Even though this is my first year at it, those wonderful, beautiful, kind and openly-giving women have sealed the deal for me. I will keep competing for as long as I can because of them. This first year I set my mark and made my throwing distances official. Next year I am determined to make my mark in the field. I can't wait.

The officials who wink, tease, and offer advice, the sports chair who ran over to check in with the newbie, and the beautiful women whose stories are left unspoken but can be read soul-deep in their eyes. That's why I will go back and drag with me anyone who wants to join this inclusive club. You don't have to be good. You just have to be willing.

Next year's 55+ BC Games are in Kelowna from Sept. 10 to 14.

Us thrower girls will see you there.

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