October 21, 2021

Senior Games open Saturday

Event in Cortland draws hundreds of competitors from NY, other states

Shenandoah Briere/contributing photographer

Michael Kennedy practices the butterfly swim Wednesday morning at the YMCA. Kennedy is a master swimmer participating in the upcoming Empire State Senior Games.

Mike Kennedy took a deep breath Wednesday morning before using a dolphin kick to propel himself into the water of the YMCA’s pool, while swinging his arms in a forward motion.

The 59-year-old Cortlandville resident was practicing the butterfly stroke in preparation of the upcoming Empire State Senior Games. The competition opens Saturday and runs through June 15.

“I started swimming again after seeing Dan McNeil in an article,” Kennedy said. He started participating in McNeil’s swimming class at the YMCA. Then, 10 years ago, Kennedy started doing the swimming events in the Senior Games.

Kennedy is constantly reminded of McNeil’s favorite saying, “Just keep swimming and you’ll live forever.” McNeil is 96 and still swims at the YMCA every day, Kennedy said.

The Cortland Regional Sports Council took over the games in 2011, but Cortland has played host to the Empire State Senior Games for 35 of their 37 years, drawing more than 1,000 athletes over 50 from around the state to compete in 20 events of athleticism and skill, including pickleball and golf.

Kennedy said he normally swims three times a week and works with weights three times a week, as well.

He practices for the games with the masters swimming class at the YMCA on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings.

He said being a part of that group and participating in the games has been great socially.

“The group aspect is really encouraging when staying healthy,” he said. “In practice we push each other more than if we were swimming on our own.”

Kennedy, a chiropractor, said swimming is a great exercise. “Thirty to 40 minutes of swimming is great cardio and it doesn’t stress the joints,” he said.

Linda Holland of Homer will play golf at the state senior games before jetting off to play in the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I think it’s exciting. I’m really looking forward to it,” she said about participating in nationals. “I’m figuring I’m going out there to play so whatever I do, I do.”

The 63-year-old has been golfing for 35 years, but only started participating in the senior games three years ago after retiring. She also played pickleball last year, but not this year because she would be traveling when the event would take place.

To prepare for the games, she’s been trying to get rounds of golf at the Vespar Hills Golf Course in Tully, where the state games will take place.

“We don’t have to go far,” Kennedy said. “It’s a great asset to our community. It’s a boon to the hotels and the restaurants in our area.”

More than 1,100 people are registered for the games, said Machell Phelps, the executive director of the sports council. New York allows participants from other states to compete.

“I would say 90% of them are from around the state,” she said — with many coming from Buffalo, Rochester and New York City.

She said the biggest draw this year was pickleball with about 450 registered, followed by volleyball with around 275 registrants.

“Everything that we (the council) do brings people into the community,” Phelps said.” I think most of the people are coming in and spending a few days. We give them a list of things they can do in the area.”

She noted that at one point the games were held in Syracuse, but people got together to bring it back to Cortland.

“One of the reasons it was brought back to Cortland was because of how easily people can get around Cortland,” she said, and they liked the hotels and restaurants. “People were familiar with the area, they felt comfortable.”

Based on a formula from Empire State Development, Phelps estimated the economic benefit from the games last year to be around $358,000. That number does not include what the council spent to put on the games or the tax collected during that period.

Kennedy said he’s looking forward to the weekend.

“With the St. Anthony’s Festival this week and the senior games the area will be abuzz,” Kennedy said.