Sandy Baxter was back in the water Monday.
It had been a year since the 58-year-old had been in the pool and nearly three since she’d swam competitively following a head injury.
“I just made up my mind a week ago that I needed to do it,” she said.
The Columbia woman was in good company as she joined nearly 150 area seniors for the first of four days of the 25th Midlands Senior Games. The annual event offers a range of athletic competitions for those ages 50 and older.
“These folks have a blast,” said Leigh Cheatham, a planning committee member of the Senior Games, which is co-sponsored by City of Columbia Parks and Recreation and Richland County Recreation Commission.
Following a morning golf match at LinRick Golf Course, Monday’s opening day featured the event’s first parade of athletes to mark the 25th anniversary. In coming days, athletes will compete in sports including bowling, horseshoes, Frisbee golf, track and field, badminton and billiards.
And, of course, there will be bingo.
Cheatham said many participants are active year-round, adding some are taking part in nearly every event this week.
“The area senior games are kind of the icing on the cake,” Cheatham said. “It’s the culmination of those folks who are already involved and they come back every year.”
Bonnie Shiah, 65, of Chapin is competing in her third Senior Games and was determined as she completed her laps at Columbia’s Drew Wellness center Monday.
“It’s great for fitness,” Shiah said. “And I enjoy moving in the water.”
Baxter, a Greenview Elementary teacher, said she hopes to set an example for her students regarding the value of fitness.
“It was fun,” she said of her return to the pool, adding next year she might enter a running event.
This week’s participants likely will see benefits beyond the games. Statistics show that seniors who remain active and socially connected typically enjoy more healthy lives.
“If that means that you can only do the fitness walk for 30 minutes a day, then that’s OK,” Cheatham said. “At least you’re getting out there and doing it.”