By Elaine Omann

The Forever Fit 50 & Beyond: Jacksonville Senior Games, an Olympic-style event series, are held annually as a means of promoting and encouraging healthy and active lifestyles for men and women who are at least 50 years of age. The games are designed in various sports for both competitive and novice athletes. The Jacksonville Senior Games offer those who participate and those who are spectators opportunities to meet people from different communities and develop friendships. The games are approved by the Florida Sports Foundation and these are qualifiers for the Florida Senior Games State championships.

This year, Hurricane Matthew caused several events, including the 18 hole scratch golf competition originally scheduled for Oct. 7 at Bent Creek Golf Course, to be postponed until Oct.13. Food that had been donated for the event, including donuts and coffee for the morning registration and hot dogs, hamburgers, beans and salad for lunch, all had to be reordered. Seventy player registered for the event and coordination between the golf course and golf team committee of the Jacksonville Senior Games was handled by volunteer and golf event director Neil Shoen.

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Shoen’s involvement began in 2004 when he first moved to the area. He played in some tournaments in other venues, but he was intrigued by this event and played in his age group for the first time in 2005. In the years that followed he continued to play but saw a need to change courses and took on the event to hold and run it at Bent Creek. He continues to play each year and has been in the state championships and had a missed opportunity at one of the nationals.

This year, it was his plan to qualify for the state with a first through third placement or a qualifier score of a minimum score of 87. He ended up with a gold medal and a score of 85 in the 75-79 age group and states the oldest man entered is 82, while the oldest in the ladies division is 89.

Shoen tells of a lot of work planning the games and the work involved and the volunteers, including his wife, who make it happen.

“It gets better and better; I love it, and people enjoy it,” he said.

Mary Farrell is the event coordinator for the entire city game schedule held over a week’s time each fall. Volunteers are relied upon for making the events possible and successful. An opening ceremony kicks off the festivities and all participants are eligible for welcome bags, prizes, and lunch. Medals are awarded to first, second, and third place in each age division for each sport event. Events include track and field, pickleball, tennis, cycling and golf, among others. Athletes who qualify may move forward to the to Florida Senior Games State championship and possibly from there to the National Senior Games, which will next be held in Birmingham in 2017.

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Photo courtesy Elaine Omann

Jean Cartwright, 89, took home the gold in the 85 – 89 division with a score of 128. Judy Bolte took the gold in the 80 – 84 division with a score of 111.

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