ST. GEORGE — The 31st annual Huntsman World Senior Games opened Tuesday night with a festive ceremony at Legend Solar Stadium at Dixie State University suffused with messages of inspiration, including from record-setting Ironman triathlete James Lawrence.
With a unifying, multinational theme of “Celebrate Peace,” attendees were encouraged to forge cross-cultural friendships during the upcoming two weeks of competition.
The games, which are open to athletes, 50 and older, are expected to attract 10,800 athletes from all 50 states and nearly 30 countries. Nearly 3,000 local volunteers help stage the games, which comprise some 30 different sports and activities, ranging from archery to volleyball.
Speaking to a crowd of a few thousand people gathered for the opening ceremonies, keynote speaker Lawrence related stories of his record-setting achievements.
In 2012, Lawrence completed 30 full Ironman triathlons in 11 different countries, earning the nickname “The Iron Cowboy” for his remarkable endurance. Three years later, Lawrence accomplished the unprecedented feat of 50 full triathlons, one a day for 50 straight days, with each one being in a different state.
In addition to the logistical challenges he and his family experienced, Lawrence talked about enduring debilitating muscle cramps, facing fear on a daily basis and overcoming other setbacks, such as crashing on his bike in Tennessee after falling asleep momentarily.
“Once you have a mindshift change, you can go on to do great things,” Lawrence said, adding that he draws inspiration from the athletes of the Senior Games.
“With you guys, I can’t think of another word than ‘courage,’” he said. “You guys are a tremendous example to me.”
Following his 10-minute remarks, Lawrence took the ceremonial torch for a running lap around the track before handing it to John Morgan Jr., who co-founded the World Senior Games in 1987 along with his late wife, Daisy.
“Let the games begin!” Morgan proclaimed as he lit the cauldron to signify the official opening of the games.
Accompanying Morgan to the cauldron were Huntsman World Senior Games CEO Kyle Case and Huntsman family representative Paul Huntsman, both of whom also addressed the audience earlier in the evening. The Jon M. Huntsman family has been the principal sponsor of the games since 1989.
Extending a warm welcome to the attendees, St. George Mayor Jon Pike talked about the importance each individual participant has on the success of the event as a whole.
“Each one of you makes a difference to these games,” Pike said, adding, ‘The unity that comes out of participating in these kinds of events is extremely important and a great asset to us, and I hope there will be many of all ages who will be watching you over the next two weeks.”
Among those in attendance were softball player Glenn Fitzgerald and his teammates from Fresno, California. Fitzgerald has participated in the Huntsman World Senior Games for the past 14 years as a member of Fresno’s Triple Play Softball team, which won a gold medal at last year’s games.
However, Fitzgerald, a former schoolteacher, suffered a stroke while substituting in an elementary school in November 2016, leaving him unable to speak or walk.
As this year would have been Fitzgerald’s 15th year of participation, making him eligible for a special commemorative ring, Fitzgerald’s family members, teammates and friends rallied to raise money to help pay for the cost of flying him to St. George to receive his ring.
“We got him here, and the Huntsman (World Senior) Games were amazing,” said Fitzgerald’s daughter Janna Jensen, who said her father was formally presented with his ring during a VIP banquet held immediately before Tuesday’s opening ceremonies. “They just did this amazing presentation for him, and we cannot thank them enough.”
An appreciative Fitzgerald smiled and shook hands with supporters as he waited in his wheelchair for the show to begin.
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by the Diamond Talent Dancers, featuring Daisy Wright and Jordan Barron. The show, produced and directed by Brian and Melinda Larson, also featured skydivers, groups of young children singing and dozens of dancers wearing flag capes highlighting different countries of the world. Fireworks capped off the evening.
For more information about the Huntsman World Senior Games, visit the organization’s website.
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