Saturday, August 18, 2018

Local Humana honorees are on top of their game at Florida Senior Games

Instead of the old adage "move it or lose it," approximately 2,000 amateur athletes 50 and older celebrated "move it and win it" during the Florida Senior Games, which ended Sunday in Clearwater.

They competed in five-year age brackets in a range of sports, from table tennis to pickleball, from track and field to shuffleboard.

As one of the principal presenters of the games, along with the Florida Sports Foundation, Humana designated four competitors as Humana Game Changers. Before the competition began, LifeTimes talked with two of the honored athletes about their commitment to these games.

Leurene Hildenbrand, 85, is one of this year’s Game Changers. She is a retired scientist from Akron, Ohio, who spends half the year in Pinellas Park. Harry Carothers, 74, also of Pinellas Park, was selected in 2015. He retired 15 years ago from the Air Force.

Have you always been active in sports?

Hildenbrand: No. I was always active, but not in sports. They didn’t have sports when I was a youngster like they have nowadays. Women had no intramural sports at all. My husband played table tennis in the basement with friends. It was all guys. When we got to Florida, I had more time on my hands and saw in the paper they were playing table tennis in senior games.

Carothers: All my life. My hobby in my retirement has been playing basketball. I played basketball in high school. My dad was always out there (in the backyard) shooting. Kind of a family thing. In the U.S. Air Force, I did a lot of running or conditioning and baseball. A typical workout would be go to the gym at lunchtime, run 2-3 miles, play full-court basketball till end of break.

How did you get started in the Florida Senior Games?

Hildenbrand: I started playing table tennis in Ohio. Then it snowballed with other sports. I started playing pickleball in Florida at the Long Center in Clearwater. My friend and myself started it there in 2012. Then I started pickleball in Canton, Ohio.

Carothers: Living in Tampa Palms, I didn’t know anything about them. I was playing basketball in the park. My primary skill in basketball is outside shooting. Three-point shooting. I’m in a lot of shooting contests, especially at the senior level. A fellow player was telling me about the senior games in 1998. I was amazed at all the county games, then the nationals.

What games will you be playing in the Florida Senior Games?

Hildenbrand: Shuffleboard, table tennis, pickleball, track and field. Just running, 100 and 200 meters.

Carothers: Just basketball.

What’s your favorite sport in the games?

Hildenbrand: I don’t really have a favorite. I play pickleball and table tennis the most. I do other sports — cycling, shooting, archery, just about everything, depending on the games. Basketball shooting? I’m not very good at that. Maybe pickleball, maybe table tennis. Pickleball is so easy to learn and you progress quickly.

Carothers: Basketball. I used to do volleyball. ...

What do the games mean to you?

Hildenbrand: I can get people to feel like I feel. You feel better because you’re out there exercising. You’re out there getting healthier. What does all the literature tell you? Get out there and move.

Carothers: I do it for fun. I have always had a lifestyle that had a lot of activity. My whole life I’ve worked out. When I retired, I gave up running because my knees began to bother me. I play full-court basketball at the Clearwater YMCA three days a week. I play against guys in their 20s and 30s. I’m a fixture over there. Over the past 18-19 years, I’ve won over 30 gold medals in the Florida Senior Games.

How do you train?

Hildenbrand: I like to train and I do train. I’m gone every day for something — pickleball in the morning and tennis in the evening. I may be cycling. Everything I have tried, I have liked. Every sport was new. I love rollerblading. Up North, I ice skate. ... I let people know I haven’t been doing this all my life. I have more time since I’ve been retired.

Carothers: I play five times a week. When I’m not playing basketball, I’m over at the side shooting. I never sit down and rest. If I sit down, I’m going to tighten up and (in the) next game, I won’t be any good at all. ...

What do you get out of the games?

Hildenbrand: I have too many medals — over 1,000 medals and trophies. That’s not the driving force. It was in the beginning. My first medal, oh, wow. By talking to these people and seeing them change, that’s a big reward for me.

Carothers: The camaraderie, if anything. Gold medals aren’t the big deal. Getting out there and competing. People who are in sports all their lives really like competing. You compete against other guys — your peer group. If you lose, you lose. If you win, it’s enjoyable. (They’re) your friends before the competition (and) your friends after the competition. Playing with guys who have a similar mind-set. Their priorities and lifestyles are very similar.

You’ve been given the title of Humana Game Changer. What does that mean for you?

Hildenbrand: I was really surprised. I tell (people), yes, you can do it. Until you try and get improvement, you can’t find out. Not only is it good for you, you will enjoy it, mentally, spiritually. That’s what I get back. That’s the reward — their enjoyment, their accomplishments.

Carothers: They’re in the insurance business. They would like all seniors to be as healthy as they can get. They sponsor the national senior games, a very healthy activity for seniors to get involved in. My understanding is (Humana) wants to recognize people who exemplify healthy aging (and) provide motivation for other seniors to develop healthy lifestyles. I think if you’re looking for a healthy lifestyle, it has to involve exercise.

Contact Fred W. Wright Jr. at [email protected]

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