Residents of Walnut Ridge, in Clive, IA, beamed with pride on Tuesday, June 11, as two of their own arrived home wearing gold and silver medals. Jim Bailey and Norm Bastemeyer were tired but smiling after a well-spent week competing in the 33rd National Veterans Golden Age Games, held on June 5-10, 2019 in Anchorage, Alaska.
The National Veterans Golden Age Games (The Games) is the premier senior adaptive rehabilitation program in the United States. It is designed to improve the quality of life for all older Veterans, including those with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. The Games are open to Veterans, ages 55 or older, who receive health care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The athletes compete in age categories across 18 events. Over 900 men and women veterans participated in this year’s games. “It’s amazing the number of people who show up for these games from all over the country,” said Jim. He and Norm flew from Iowa to Anchorage on June 4 along with other members of the Iowa Team.
Jim, who served as a Marine Corporal, was returning to compete in The Games for the third year in the 80-84 year age group. He competed in cycling, swimming, golf and nine-ball pool. He won gold medals in 20K cycling and 25m freestyle swimming. He won a silver medal in 50m freestyle. “In each case, I beat my own best time,” he said.
Jim said, “It’s more than a competition, it’s like a reunion.” He enjoyed reconnecting and competing alongside athletes from games past. “You meet up with the same people from year to year. It was great to see some of my Golden Age buddies,” he said.
Jim said that the high point this year was having his Walnut Ridge friend and neighbor, Norm, join him. “Norm really had a good time,” Jim said. “He competed admirably for a guy his age!”
“I was just hoping not to embarrass myself,” confessed the former Naval Reserve Commander. Norm admits that he knew nothing about The Games until he heard about them from Jim. Norm is already well known at Walnut Ridge for swimming over 1000 miles in the community pool since he and his wife moved to Walnut Ridge in 2011. Norm had been a runner until the mid-1990s when he recovered from heart surgery. He took up swimming as his better fitness choice. “Swimming is a great low-impact way of getting and staying in shape.”
Norm competed in swimming in the 85-89 year old category and won silver medals in 25m and 50m freestyle. He also won silver medals in golf and nine-ball pool. “There are not many veterans my age who are still competing,” he said. Although not competing directly with them, Norm swam next to athletes much younger than himself. “It was a challenge to keep up but it helped me to swim at a faster pace for being next to them,” he said. Proudly, along with his medals, he also beat his own best time in each swimming event.
Being in Alaska was also a highlight for the two. “It’s a beautiful place,” said Norm, who enjoyed side trips to the region outside of Anchorage. Jim’s favorite Alaskan memories include the moose on the cycling track that held up the event start for over a half-hour and the mother bear and two cubs that traversed the golf course two holes ahead of him. “You knew you were in Alaska!” he laughed.
“We are so proud of Jim and Norm,” said Nick Drey, Walnut Ridge Fitness Instructor. Nick, along with his co-worker, Fitness Instructor Kate Bode, helped the men train for The Games. “Norm and Jim utilized the Wellness Program and equipment right here at Walnut Ridge,” he said. “Norm swam up to 3 miles weekly in our pool. Jim took exercise classes we offer and uses the fitness equipment. He also swam in the pool as well as golfing 2-3 times a week and riding his own bike on nearby trails,” Nick said.
The Walnut Ridge community has been sharing in Norm’s and Jim’s glory. The community gave them a big send-off on May 29. Now the residents and staff are enjoying story upon story about their local champions’ adventures and feats of strength and skill. In the meantime, both Jim and Norm are setting their sights on the 2020 Games in Madison, Wisconsin with high motivation. “I like the competition and the challenge that comes from the quality of play,” said Jim. “I’ll be 88 next year but, if I’m able, I’ll be there again,” said Norm.
This is how legends are made!