Local seniors share how they prepare for state’s winter games

By: Mary Beth Almond | Metro | Published February 8, 2023

  Jane Y. Miller, of Rochester Hills, began competing in basketball with the Michigan Senior Olympics in 2019, after not having competed in basketball since high school.

Jane Y. Miller, of Rochester Hills, began competing in basketball with the Michigan Senior Olympics in 2019, after not having competed in basketball since high school.

Photo provided by the Michigan Senior Olympics

 Robert Dunn, of Rochester Hills, will be competing in the Michigan Senior Olympics pickleball event this year.

Robert Dunn, of Rochester Hills, will be competing in the Michigan Senior Olympics pickleball event this year.

Photo provided by the Michigan Senior Olympics


METRO DETROIT — Seniors from across the state will go head-to-head in the 2023 Michigan Senior Olympics Winter Games, which will be held mainly throughout March and April at various locations throughout Oakland County.

Michigan Senior Olympics Executive Director Becky Ridky expects approximately 800 participants, ages 50 and older, to compete this year — games includes archery, basketball, billiards, dancesport, ice hockey, pickleball, powerlifting, table tennis, track and field, and volleyball.

MSO basketball player Jane Y. Miller, of Rochester Hills, has been competing in the games since 2019. Miller first became interested in the games when she served as a volunteer for the MSO’s men’s basketball event, but she didn’t decide to start playing basketball competitively again — with the Michigan Spirits, based in Detroit — and compete for the first time in the MSO until she retired about 15 years later.

Miller, who hadn’t played competitive basketball since high school, said it was tough at first for her to get back on the court after so many years off.

“It was a struggle in the beginning, because I couldn’t even make a free throw. I had to realize that I had to use different muscle skills and different things and work on it. All the ladies there were very helpful in helping me and telling me, ‘Hey, it’s going to take a little bit,’” she said.

Determined to get back into the game she has always felt is her true passion, Miller persisted. She attended basketball practice two days a week, signed up for some strength classes at OrangeTheory, and rebuilt her strength and endurance.

“Basketball was my love back in high school, and it still is to this day. Honest to God, I feel like a kid out on that court when I’m playing, and I’m so happy I still get to do it,” she said. “It’s wonderful to be able to feel like a kid again. You just put your ankle braces on, your knee braces on, and you make sure that you work out. It keeps you in shape to do what you want to do.”

Last year, Miller and her basketball team of women over 65 years old made it to the National Senior Games, and they are returning to compete again at nationals this year. Miller is also competing in the MSO’s free throw and three point competitions this year.

“Being with these women, all of them have worked all different jobs and different things, it’s wonderful,” Miller said. “The camaraderie is one of my biggest joys … and the competitiveness. It gives you life. It’s adrenaline, and it’s wonderful.”

MSO athlete Robert Dunn said he fell in love with pickleball after taking his mother-in-law to physical therapy at the Older Persons’ Commission, where he saw some seniors playing the sport.

“I saw these older people playing a really high-level game that was exciting, and I had never seen it before. I immediately went down and started asking people about it, and they said they had a beginner class three days away, so I booked a spot in that, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.

From there, Dunn became a regular player and even started to teach.

“I was a competitive racquetball player up until the time that I found pickleball. For a while, I tried to play both, but I just found pickleball to be that much more exciting for me, and I basically gave up racquetball for pickleball,” he said

He eventually became the pickleball coordinator at Lifetime in Rochester Hills and Troy, which will host the pickleball tournament for the MSO this year.

“There’s some people that have stayed in competitive sports to some extent throughout their lives, but there are a lot of people that had been really competitive in the high school and college level, but then life gets in the way, they have families, and they spend 20 years away from competitive sports, and then they come back to play pickleball and get these competitive urges that they haven’t had to deal with for years,” he said. “It’s fun to watch people get back into it at that level again, and the excitement.

“The great thing about pickleball, and the Senior Olympics, is it gives everybody a really fun opportunity to feel that competitive spirit again.”

Pickleball, Dunn said, is a great game to start at any age or level of skill.

“We play with a whiffle ball, which does not travel as fast as a tennis ball, so it’s much easier to track and it’s much easier to strike,” he said. “It is particularly good for people who have not been dealing with things where they need to use their quickness or hand-eye coordination. It’s perfect for the elderly community and also for kids — really anybody that wants to pick up the game. It’s easy to start, because you can hit the ball and have some success.”

As a player, Dunn said, he has really loved meeting the other pickleball athletes over the years.

“It’s neat to be able to socialize with people that have gone through the same type of life experience that you have,” he said.

He encourages seniors of all ages and abilities to give the MSO a try.

“People worry about if they are going to fit in or not, but there are all levels of physicality and ability, and the competitions are broken down into five-year age groups, so you feel acceptable in doing it. There is so much camaraderie in all these events … and there is competition involved, too, but it’s just a really fun way for people to get out and feel like they are a part of something, meet a lot of good people and get some physical exercise, too.”

The Michigan Senior Olympics is a nonprofit organization that aims to enhance the quality of life for those over 50 by providing and developing programs in physical fitness and nutrition, while enhancing mental strength and sports skills.

For more information, to volunteer or to become a sponsor for the upcoming games, visit www.michiganseniorolympics.org or call (248) 608-0252.