- BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has been a sponsor of the Tennessee Senior Olympics for more than 40 years.
- BlueCross established the Hall of Fame program in 2017.
- This year’s inductees include Joe Daws (95), Joan Conant (81), Richard West (59) and Carol Stricklin (78).
Joe Daws started competing in the Tennessee Senior Olympics more than 30 years ago.
“I’ve always enjoyed swimming, but I never competed until after I retired,” Joe says. “I’m 95, but I feel young because I’m active. One of the big things that has kept me active is the Senior Olympics.”
This year, he’s one of four athletes and organizers being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Since 1981, the state’s top senior athletes have competed in the Tennessee Senior Olympics (TSO), which are dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles for seniors through fitness, sports and an active involvement in life. The games feature 20 sports, including basketball, swimming, track and field, tennis, bowling, and pickleball.
Each year, four individuals who have demonstrated their long-term commitment to and participation in the games are inducted into the TSO Hall of Fame.
Here are the 2022 inductees:
Joe Daws, 95
A Navy veteran, Joe and his wife Roberta came to Nashville after college to do graduate work at Peabody College. They planned to live in Florida after completing school. However, they fell in love with Nashville and never left. Both became educators, with Joe teaching math at Hillsboro High School for 31 years.
Joe still swims almost every day. He has countless gold medals and has been to the Senior Olympics national competition nine times. He recently returned from the national games in Ft. Lauderdale, where he won gold in all four events that he entered.
“I used to enter all six swimming events that are allowed, but the backstroke is harder now since my arms don’t work as well as they used to,” Joe says. “For freestyle, I do more of a Tennessee creep than the Australian crawl these days, but it still works. Now that I’m in the 95-99 age bracket, I’ve discovered that the real secret to beating your competition is to outlive them.”
Joe says the Senior Olympics is not just about the competition, but also the camaraderie. He knows most of the swimmers by name and makes a point to congratulate them after their races.
“I enjoy going places and talking with people — as long as I don’t bore them with my stories,” Joe says. “I like splashing around with other folks, cheering them on and being part of the games. It keeps me young.”
Joan Conant, 81
You wouldn’t think someone diagnosed with emphysema and asthma in her early 20s would be competing in track and field at age 81, but Joan Conant doesn’t allow things to stand in her way. When she was working as a nurse, she regularly took care of others while wearing a portable oxygen tank due to her condition.
At 55, Joan was introduced to the Kingsport Senior Center and the Senior Olympics. With the encouragement of her husband and friends, she entered and ran the 100-meter dash. While she didn’t win the event, she’s been competing every year since.
“I started slowly with walking and really worked on exercises to improve my breathing,” Joan explains. “The more I pushed my body, the better I felt. As my asthma diminished, I was able to do more track and field events, including the 50- and 100-meter dash. I’ve participated in most of the events offered.”
Joan has made some lifelong friends through the Senior Olympics. With other participants from Kingsport, she formed a group called the Wild Women of Kingsport that travels together to events throughout the state.
She’s also been named Local Athlete of the Year, and she’s won the District Sportsmanship Award twice. She continues to serve as an ambassador for the Senior Olympics. Over the years, she has won more than 500 medals in district, state and national games.
“I used to save my medals – and I still save a few that are special to me, but I donate most of them back to the games, or to St. Jude, the Boys and Girls Clubs or the Special Olympics for them to use,” she says.
A car wreck in January injured her knee, which limited the events she entered this year, but she’s committed to participating.
“It will be just shuffleboard and cornhole for me this year,” Joan says. “If my knee continues to improve, I may get to some add other events next year. These games have become an important facet of my life. This is my 27th year of competing, and I can’t imagine not participating.”
Richard West, 59
Richard West isn’t a competitor in the Senior Olympics, but his contributions have been as significant as any athlete. Richard is a member of the Chattanooga Parks and Outdoors staff who has dramatically increased athlete participation from the Chattanooga area and has helped with the state finals for more than 30 years.
“When I joined the parks department in 1988, we had very limited participation in the games – just a few team sports with a total of about 40 athletes,” Richard explains. “My supervisor challenged me to reach out to a wider group of seniors and to build support for them to participate in a larger number of sports. We now have seniors participating in every sport and have about 400 athletes joining our district events.”
Richard has worked every state final since 1990 and brings a staff of 6-12 to help run the games.
“When I attended my first state finals, I was amazed at the senior athletes, their athleticism and the fun they had at the games,” Richard says. “At that time, we didn’t have a true senior program at any of our centers. The Senior Olympics inspired me to change that because I saw firsthand, not only was it possible to compete after the age of 55 (the minimum age back then), but it was also necessary for us to better serve our senior population by offering them avenues to compete. And almost everyone was humble in victory and gracious in defeat. I’ve also built great friendships through the games that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Carol Stricklin, 78
“My family teases me, saying that I bring up Senior Olympics within the first five minutes of meeting a person,” says Carol Stricklin. “A friend of mine who did track and field brought me into it, and I try to encourage others to participate. Some people tell me they have a bad knee or whatever, but I just tell them that we’re all here with imperfect bodies competing with people of similar ages.”
Carol has participated in several of the sports offered at the games over the past 25 years , but basketball and track and field are her favorites.
“I’m probably best known for basketball because of our team name, the Age Defyers,” she explains. “A lot of teams are named something along the lines of ‘the Golden Girls’ but I wanted ours to be more positive and describe what we’re trying to do: defy age. We wear pink jerseys with our name, so we kind of stand out. We’ve been a team for 24 years and have been to the national games several times, so we’re known throughout the country. We won the gold medal in Division 2 in 2017.”
In earlier years, Carol would train year-round for the games, but she has now scaled back somewhat. She still stays busy, playing cards twice a week, playing pickleball, exploring genealogy and spending time with her two adult children and grandchildren. She has also organized the hundreds of medals she’s won over the years in a display in her garage.
“I love the Senior Olympics because it has given me the opportunity to participate in things I didn’t have the opportunity to do earlier in life,” Carol says.
“I used to keep my medals in boxes in the attic, but now I get to look at them and see the variety of things I’ve done. It also reminds me of the great friendships I’ve formed over the years. The Senior Olympics has kept me both healthy and happy.”