ST. GEORGE – A tiny island nation (166 square miles total) in the Caribbean, Barbados is mainly known for three things: Its breathtaking scenery, seemingly endless sunshine and world-class athletes.
Rawle Clarke is one of those athletes. Clarke is a former professional runner who competed in the 1976 Summer Olympics, he has used his influence in his native country to advocate keeping healthy and active throughout life. Upon learning about the Huntsman World Senior Games in 2004, he was inspired to gather other senior athletes to represent Barbados, an idea that was intially met with disbelief by some.
“People in their eighties and nineties (were) competing in events that you would not expect,” he said. “(They) thought we were crazy to have old people running.”
Not to be deterred by the skeptics, Clarke and his team took St. George by storm that October, 2004, earning 21 medals in track and field alone. They have returned every year since, winning both medals and fans with their enthusiasm and competitive spirit.
Ainsley Lovell, a 58-year-old track and field athlete, not only recognizes the support of the Huntsman crowd; she revels in it. She has come to nine Games and acquired more medals than she can count, earning 10 golds in her best year.
“I look forward to putting on a little show for these people,” she said. “I am especially proud to be able to do these things at my age.”
The team has also made waves back in Barbados, where the concept of active seniors is just beginning to catch on. Athletes like Lovell are widely known and lauded as ambassadors for the 50-plus community. Barbados even now has its own National Senior Games, which Clarke helped orchestrate.
2012 Barbados Senior Team
Track and Field
This year’s team is comprised of 22 athletes in six sports. Track and field is fittingly emphasized; the Barbadians continue to dominate in most running events thanks to stellar competitors like 65-year-old sprinter Shirley Harper.
Harper has attended the Games since 2006 and earned four dozen medals, 30 of which are gold. This year, she blazed down the track to score golds in the 50, 100, 200, 400, and 800 meter runs. But even more than her impressive victories, what she enjoys most about the Games is the opportunity to wave her flag.
“So many people know us here. As soon as the locals see the blue track suits, we hear, ‘Barbados! Barbados!’” she said. “It’s an honor to be chosen for the team because I love my island.”
This view is shared by Harper’s teammates, who take great pride in being able to represent not only their country but their peers.
“I don’t want people to ever put (seniors) in a corner because of their age,” Lovell said.
Clarke said, “Our athletes are staying healthy and living longer, and our people are becoming more fitness-oriented. I think I’m doing something important for my country.”
For detailed schedules all sports, visit the official website of the Games.
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