The path to competing in the Golden Age Games is different for each competitor. Veteran and retired VA employee Mary Bader has found something that makes staying in shape fun.

A Veteran of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Bader recently competed in her fourth National Veterans Golden Age Games event, earning a silver medal in bowling, and placing fourth overall in the One-Mile Power Walk.

“I’ve done air rifle, bowling, freestyle swimming, badminton (medaled twice), table tennis (medaled two years in a row), bocce ball, and now they’ve added corn hole,” Bader said. “You just have to be 55 or older and have a VA primary care provider to compete.”

She first became interested in the games when her father signed up as the first Veteran from John J. Pershing VA Medical Center to participate. A Korean War Veteran, he won a silver and two bronze medals.

“I went with him and decided right then that when I turned 55, I wanted to do it, too,” she said.

Father passed away before she could compete with him

“Before he went, he made me promise I would do the games,” she added. Since then she has been to Albuquerque, Detroit, and even Anchorage to participate. “Last year was canceled because of COVID, but this year they decided to do the games virtually, at home, and then compare scores nationwide.”

Bader (left) and Whole Health program coordinator and nurse Amy Mekan, her coach and supporter

Describing the careful measures to ensure fair competition, Bader said she was required to have multiple local judges, video her performance in each event, and upload the scores to a national database.

“Then we waited for them to tally the results and call to tell us if we’d medaled,” she said.

Whole Health Program Coordinator and nurse Amy Mekan served as Bader’s coach and supporter. “Mary is so excited about the games, it’s impossible not to catch her enthusiasm,” Mekan said. “Her love of the games is so infectious, I intend to join her for the competition when I turn 55.”

The experience was different this year

“The biggest thing I missed was the camaraderie,” Bader said, about the canceled ’20 games. “You make friends for life at these things. Everybody cheers everybody else on and we tell our stories to each other.  We’ve got each other’s six. Then, we look forward to seeing each other the next year. It’s like a reunion.  And between events at the games we do other wellness stuff together or have meals together. It’s an amazing experience.”

Bader is in her 6th year as a Veterans treatment court volunteer mentor. She spends a lot of time and energy helping Veterans who are involved with the justice system. And she plays an important role with the local VFW. She also continually brings gifts to the hospital’s nursing home Veterans. Staff members refer to her as “A special lady.”

VA’s goal with the games is to help Veterans make physical activity a regular part of their daily lives and provide a way to showcase the preventive and therapeutic value of sports and physical activity.

Stay in shape for the games

Bader says it works. “Knowing you’re going to compete in the games each year keeps you more aware of the need to make better choices, keep moving, and stay in shape,” she said.

And she hopes once Veterans learn about the National Golden Age Veterans Games, more of them will join her for next year’s event in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Those games take place in July 2022, but registration begins in March.

The National Veterans Golden Age Games is the only national multi-event sports and recreational seniors’ competition program designed to improve the quality of life for older Veterans with a wide range of abilities and disabilities.

Participants compete in eight different age categories in events such as air rifle and air pistol, badminton, basketball, blind disc golf, cycling, dominoes, golf, horseshoes, pickleball, swimming and tennis.

By Angela Smith is a public affairs officer for the John J. Pershing VA

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Published on Aug. 15, 2021

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