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Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Noodle hockey keeps seniors in the game
Close your eyes and it could be a pickup hockey game like any of thousands played daily across this country.
"Ooh, sorry," apologizes one speedster as she accidentally knocks a teammate across his head.
"The other way, George!" someone yells at a latecomer who has just whaled a shot in the wrong direction.
"Uh oh, look who's here," catcalls a third. "It's the Gretzky of noodle hockey."
Oh yes, it's hockey in the best Canadian tradition--jam-packed with fierce competition, good-natured ribbing, and not a little illegal action when spirits run high.
The one big difference about this game?Most of the players are hitting 90 or more, and we're talking years, not points.
Among this crowd, just because you're in your 80s or 90s and using a walker is no excuse for mind and body to grind to a stately crawl. Kinetics experts would applaud. The prevailing theory is that for most people, moving slowly and cautiously with age is counterproductive. Rather than being protective, years of slow, deliberate movement simply exacerbates weakness. Use it or lose it.
The hockey players at Elim Village retirement community in Surrey, B. C., know all about that. They come from a generation for whom physical fitness has always been a life necessity as well as recreation. They are determined, they are disciplined and, make no mistake, they are tough.
"I'm a Saskatchewan girl," retired teacher Edna McFarlane, 89, said. Although she skated, rode horseback and played softball all her life, this is the first time she's put any time into playing hockey. It doesn't bother her that she's sitting in a chair, the stick is a foam noodle and the puck's a beach ball. The adrenalin is there, the camaraderie is there. What more could you want?
Margaret -- "We call her 'Kick' " --Martin, 91, used to ride bareback to school, herd cattle and teach in a one-room school.
"The problem is now, you can't put your arm around a child and that's what the little ones need if they are feeling blue," said Martin, who remembers teaching phys-ed in days gone by. "I think there's too many children left out."
A team player in the past, she's still a team player now: "We have people in there that need to hit the ball and you give it to those who are a little more handicapped than we are. We give them a chance."
George Gunn, 89, was a trapper in northernAlbertaandanarmyphysical training instructor. He's had a stroke and a spinal fusion, walks with a cane, and these days, can barely see.
"I never played hockey. I can't even skate. No wonder I'm no good at (noodle hockey)," he said.
Gunn calls McFarlane "one of these tough girls."
McFarlane said keeping fit comes down to grit and determination.
"What I find is I just make myself do it. Some mornings I get up and I just don't feel like doing it. I have to make myself. I get up and I don't let myself think that way. I absolutely won't let myself think that way," she said. "Before, my blood pressure was high and I was having trouble walking. I started doing the recumbent bike, the resistance chair. My blood pressure went down, dear!It took three or four months. Then it was boring, sitting there on this bike for 40 minutes."
Retired physiotherapist Phyllis Taylor, 91, is in the game to score goals. Period.
Is it frustrating playing hockey from a chair? In a word, yes, she said, but "pain goes away when you're busy."
"I like it. I think it's challenging," she said. "I wanted to be a doctor, but my father said it was a waste of time because he thought I would get married and not use my skills."
Like many of her teammates, Taylor views the younger generation with concern.
"I don't think people in their middle ages have much exercise, but they are learning," she said.
"I think we have a lot to learn from this generation," Elim recreation coordinator Jessica Baker said. "These are the people who built Canada."
Taylor's generation walked five miles to school every day--uphill both ways, as the joke goes--played street games, carried rifles, lived through a war, know how to make use of routine, and have a tremendous respect for honour and friendship, Baker said. They were physically active their whole lives, and that's what's helping them now.
"You don't all of a sudden wake up one morning knitting," Baker said.
Retired bookkeeper Dorothy Padmore, 97, certainly didn't.She played ice hockey as a kid in Armstrong, B. C. And she had her Burnaby, B. C., apartment until a year ago.
"I did the vacuuming, cleaning and I went for a walk every day," she said.
She's taken computer lessons and checks out as many new activities as she can. Her goal is to improve her balance. Just standing is tricky. And showering. But she really gets a kick out of the hockey.
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