Maryland “Golden Age” Veterans in Iowa for National Athletic Competition
Wearing matching t-shirts with a new team name that reflects their tough (but friendly) fighting spirit, Veteran patients from the VA Maryland Health Care System—the “Maryland Warriors”—are in Des Moines, Iowa for the National Veterans Golden Age Games.
The Golden Age Games are held annually and open to Veterans ages 55 and older who are enrolled with VA health care. Veterans from across the nation compete in multiple events with sports ranging from badminton and basketball to swimming and tennis. This year will be the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that the VA Maryland Health Care System is sending a team to participate in person.
Team Coach Lauren Buckingham, a recreation therapist and the Adaptive Sports coordinator at the VA Maryland Health Care System, says programs like the Golden Age Games, which are open to all Veteran patients regardless of their athletic ability, offer multiple benefits to Veterans.
“We all know the importance of physical activity, particularly as we get older,” she says. “In addition to motivating Veterans to move and live healthier lifestyles, there’s the comradery and connecting with other Veterans, the regimen and discipline of training and working toward their individual goals. For some, this could just be about crossing the finish line. For others, it could provide them with a purpose.”
“I think it’s safe to say that all would like to come home with a medal, but really, the whole experience is deeper than just the sports side of things,” she notes. “We’re more than a team, we’ve become a family.”
Maryland Warriors is comprised of one first timer joining seasoned competitors, like Garfield Adams. A life-long athlete and U.S. Air Force Veteran, Adams has been competing in the Golden Age Games since 2017. He holds 7 gold medals and 1 silver medal in pickleball and table tennis.
“I’ve always loved competing,” Adams says. He enjoys pickleball—which in 2018 became a medal sport in the Golden Age Games—so much, he became a certified pickleball instructor last year and currently coaches some 120 people of all ages in Randallstown, MD three days a week. “People have told me I’m starting a pickleball revolution,” he says.
Pickleball has many advantages that can appeal to Veterans who are athletic as well as those just getting started. “Pickleball is great because you can play it at any age, and you can play from day one,” says Adams. “It’s addictive and so much fun. You get a lot of exercise without even realizing it.”
Another member of the Maryland Warriors, Constance Rosser, didn’t go to Des Moines with her teammates, but she will be participating in the “at home” version of the games in June. A competitor in previous years, she will be embracing a new challenge this year: the 5K and 20K Recumbent Cycling events.
Rosser started training on the recumbent bike in 2017. Then staff changes (her former coach moved on to another job) and COVID-19 delayed her plans. Team Captain Lenny McNair, who has been competing in the Golden Age Games since 2014, and VA Recreation Therapy Supervisor Daniel Vigus, helped keep her going throughout the pandemic. “They stayed in my corner and encouraged me to keep training for the at home games,” Rosser says. She competed in the at home Powerwalk event, earning a silver medal.
Recumbent cycling, however, remained an interest for her. “I still had the vision, I just didn’t have the training I needed,” Rosser explains. That’s where Buckingham and Joshua Smith, also a recreation therapist at the VA Maryland Health Care System, came in.
“They are an exceptional team,” she says. “Coach Lauren and Coach Josh met me where I was and encouraged me to reach higher. They’ve got me so excited to cross the 20K finish line this year!”
It wasn’t an easy task, Rosser notes as she recalls getting up at 5 a.m. to meet Buckingham at the local YMCA. When she acquired her own recumbent bike, Rosser realized training on public roads was too dangerous. Again, her coaches stepped in.
“We mapped out a course here on the Perry Point VA Medical Center campus, and Josh and I have been training with her. You’ll see us out there on our lunch breaks, following behind her on our bikes, making sure she feels safe and that she’s getting the training that she needs,” Buckingham says. “I’m so proud of her, and I told her I’ll be riding along with her, cheering her on when she competes next month.”
Buckingham’s pride extends to the whole team. “I hope I’m as energetic and athletic down the road as they are. Some of the things they’ve been through, it’s incredible,” she says. “These Veterans truly are inspirations and they’re all my heroes.”
Our appreciation to Veteran Service Organizations
Flying to the National Veterans Golden Age Games and staying in a hotel during the competition can be costly, but the Veteran Service Organizations listed below donated $500 or more to send the Maryland Warriors to this year’s 2023 Golden Age Games in Des Moines, Iowa. We are grateful for their support!
- American Legion, Department of Maryland
- American Legion Post 135
- American Legion Auxiliary Unit 135
- American Legion Post 15
- American Legion Post 18
- American Legion Post 29
- American Legion Post 47
- AMVETS, Department of Maryland
- Disabled American Veterans Unit 15
- Gold Star Mothers, Maryland Chapter
- Sons of American Legion, Detachment of Maryland
- Sons of AMVETS, Department of Maryland
- Sons of AMVETS Squadron 7