Competition puts senior pride on the line

John Torchiana gets a hug from Bonnie Sanfield after winning the gold in miniature golf. Both live at Normandy Farms Estates, site of the senior games.
John Torchiana gets a hug from Bonnie Sanfield after winning the gold in miniature golf. Both live at Normandy Farms Estates, site of the senior games. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff)
Posted: September 22, 2013

Ron Keppler's first toss in horseshoes Friday was a ringer.

It was only natural, though. He wasn't messing around.

This was the OlympiACTS, after all, the annual contest that pits eight Pennsylvania retirement communities in a variety of competitions, from horseshoes to shuffleboard to Wii bowling.

So when the 74-year-old stepped up to toss the iron for his team - the Spartans of Spring House Estates in Lower Gwynedd - he evaluated everything: the density of the sand in the pit, the weight of the horseshoe in his hand, the distance to the stake.

After he let it fly and heard the clang as the shoe landed, his adrenaline started to flow.

"You think my heart was palpitating?" he asked after the contest. He answered his rhetorical question with a vigorous nod and a laugh.

His enthusiasm was par for the course at the half-day of activities organized by ACTS Retirement-Life Communities, a nonprofit with communities across the country, including in Bucks, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties.

About 150 competitors were bused to Normandy Farms Estates in Blue Bell for the events. Including cheerleaders (holding pom-poms) and spectators, total attendance was estimated at 200.

Teams wore colored shirts to distinguish their squads. They created chants and had team flags. They heckled opponents (in a friendly manner) throughout the day.

The tangible rewards of triumph weren't overwhelming: medals for individual event-winners and a trophy for the community with the highest point total.

But pride was on the line, too, and though most maintained a positive outlook on the competition, there was no denying almost everyone wanted to win.

"Isn't it hysterical?" asked Barbara Fricke, 74, whose Spring House Estates team erupted in cheers after winning the egg-on-spoon race. "You'd think it was something important we were winning."

Competition is no longer monopolized by the young. Last month, 64-year old Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, completing the 110-mile journey in about 53 hours.

"You're never too old to chase your dream," she told reporters.

Also in August, a 54-year-old Berwyn man swam across the English Channel after several failed attempts. His message after the odyssey: "You are never too old." Though more competitive feats are being accomplished by people as they age, the ranks of the aged are growing: According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, 41.4 million people in 2011 were 65 or older, an increase of 18 percent since 2000.

In addition, the number of Americans who will turn 65 in the next two decades increased 33 percent during that time, according to the agency. By 2030, it's estimated 19 percent of the country's population will be over 65.

That hardly means, however, that people have to slow down, according to Friday's Olympians in Blue Bell.

Mary Lou Brennan, 75, who competed in the egg-on-spoon race for Brittany Pointe Estates in Lansdale, said keeping busy with activities "is what keeps us alive."

Keppler, the horseshoer, was similarly enthusiastic. Despite his ringer on the first toss, he and his partner were eliminated after the first round.

But looking at his wife Liz, 74, Keppler said the afternoon was part of their philosophy for staying young.

Almost every day, he said, they ask, "Where has this day gone?"

Contact Chris Palmer at 609-217-8305,, or follow on Twitter @cs_palmer

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