For now, there are a dozen medals gathered in a pile on a desk at the Civic Center office of the Bartow Parks & Recreation division. Eventually, they will make their way across the street to the home of their new owner, but, for now, he’s keeping them at work.
Jim Schroder earned every one of those medals through his competition in the Polk Senior Games. Jim, who works with Parks & Recreation as a customer relations representative (his words), is 85 years old.
The records of the 2013 Polk Senior Games find 132 Bartow residents who took part in one or more of the activities. Floral Lakes, where Jim lives with his wife, Patricia, had the single most community participation as 57 residents took part. Good Life had three dozen community members involved in the games.
The annual competition has become a highlight for residents and seasonal visitors alike. Executive director Deena Wilbur has been leading the effort for 20 years and has seen great growth in that period. The Polk Senior Games featured competitive athletic and recreational events for men and women age 50 and older. They promote a healthy, active lifestyle and provide volunteer opportunities. The organization is non-profit with funding for the games coming from entry fees, sponsorships and donations.
Jim discovered the Polk Senior Games a little more than a dozen years ago. After spending a week of vacation in Bartow, Jim and Patricia returned to their Cincinnati, Ohio, area home and talked about moving to Florida. They did, in short order, and in Jim’s acclimation to his new home, he volunteered to help with the punt, pass and kick competition.
“I was a scorekeeper,” he said. “As I was watching them, I said ‘I can do this.’ So, the next year, I joined in.”
At the time, Jim was part of what has become the most popular age group. While one would think the youngest group, the ones in their 50s, would be the highest populated, it’s actually the group of 70-74 year olds that provide more competitors than any other age range. That fact further stresses the impact that the Polk Senior Games can have on the county’s communities.
This year’s events ran from Feb. 23 to the closing ceremonies on March 11.
Jim entered a number of events, which is a common strategy. The schedule of events makes it possible to compete every day, but not necessarily conducive to multiple events in a single day.
The Games staff seeks suitable locations throughout the county. Only a handful of events are contested in Bartow with Lakeland, Winter Haven and other communities taking on the bulk of the action. Locations in Bartow included First Baptist Church, Bartow High School stadium and the Bartow Civic Center.
Jim’s effort got off to a great start as he earned a pair of gold medals on the first day, winning the bench press and dead lift elements of the powerlifting competition. The next day offered “Senior Smarts,” a knowledge test.
“This one is the medal I am most proud of,” Jim said about his silver in this competition. “Everybody knows how dumb I am. I surprised myself by getting the silver medal there.” He offered up some of the questions that he recalled and, in the interest of full disclosure, I wouldn’t have gotten a gold and probably not a silver either.
The Monday putting and chipping competition stood next in line. While Jim is not a golfer, he practiced the skills and was ready. He was disappointed that he “forgot everything I had learned when it came time to do this” and the result was the first competition without a medal.
Undaunted, Jim set out on his Wednesday basketball effort with the desire to get the medals going again. He was successful in picking up a bronze in free throw competition. The next day picked up punt, pass and kick. His statement of 13 years ago that “I can do that” rang true as Jim gathered a gold.
The weekend field games opened the floodgates. Jim took gold in the discus and the softball throw while also getting silver medals in shot put and javelin. On Sunday, he and Patricia were volunteers for the euchre, so there was no competition. Bowling was next on the agenda.
“First, it was singles and I did poorly. Next was doubles and I got a bronze. Last was mixed doubles and I did poorly.”
The final opportunity was the weekend’s walking competition. Jim finished five seconds behind Harry Morse to get the silver in the 1,500 meters, but got the gold in the longer 5,000 meters. He walked both events on the same day, doing the 5,000 first and then, 90 minutes later, participating in the 1,500.
The mention of “Harry Morse” is significant. The two men have met in the competition on numerous occasions and Jim considers him the man to beat.
“He’s always ahead of me, it seems,” he said of the man who splits his time between New York and Lakeland. “It’s fun to try to beat him because when you can, you really did something.”
While the competition is clearly an important aspect of any contest, it is only a part of the picture when it comes to the Polk Senior Games. The activities are designed to allow anyone to choose areas where they may excel. While many rely on physical skills, there are plenty that don’t. Physical handicaps are not an impairment in many competitions. There have been blind walkers and wheelchair-bound participants in some of the activities. In addition to the competition, mostly friendly, there is also the sense of camaraderie that finds “rivals” cheering for each other. “It’s fun to be in competition, but you are usually just in competition with yourself,” Jim said.
Jim is proud of his accomplishments, but just as proud of those of his brother-in-law. Arland Meade participated in five activities this year. The Games consider your age to be the age you will be at the end of the year. By those standards, Arland is 98 years old and he earned his share of medals in the competition as well.
It will be 11 more months before Jim can participate in the Polk Senior Games and try to eclipse those 12 medals, the competition with Harry Morse and the other challenges within himself that he sets. In the meantime, he’ll be working at Parks & Recreation, keeping himself active by walking and biking and enjoying the life in Florida. He’s one of many inspirational stories that can be found in activities like the Polk Senior Games. It’s just another example that life is good.