For most people, approaching 60 means it’s time to decompress, relax, and embrace retirement by languishing on Birchbank’s pastoral glade, but for three Greater Trail men the thrill of competition and the simple joy of training and participating in Special Olympic events keep them going.
Neil Emery, Bob Lattanzio, and Gary Bjorgan share almost 180 years between them, but continue to compete in a variety of sports including floor hockey, bocce, and bowling, at the regional, provincial, and national levels.
At age 66, Neil Emery is the elder-statesman of Special Olympics B.C.-Trail (SOBC-Trail) having been involved with the program since 1987. The Trail native has competed in numerous regional and provincial events, and participated in the Canada Special Olympic Games in Edmonton in 1989, and, most recently, after winning gold at the provincials in 2013, Emery and Lattanzio captured silver at the 2014 Canada Special Olympic Games in Vancouver last July in men’s team bocce.
“First I started in floor hockey, now I like bowling and bocce the best,” said Emery. “It gives me a lot more exercise than it does in floor hockey.”
Emery played minor hockey in Trail and his early experience in sport naturally led him to compete in floor hockey with the Special Olympics team originally, and, ultimately, to specialize in bocce and bowling.
An avid Trail Smoke Eater fan, Emery plans to continue training this summer as it helps keep him in shape and social, while preparing for the upcoming Silver City Days Bocce Tournament and the South Okanagan Bocce Tournament in Oliver in June.
Gary Bjorgan, the youngest of the three at age 56, has been tending goal for the SOBC-Trail Roadrunners ringette floor hockey team for about three years now.
“I enjoy it, getting out, and stopping the rings. Besides, I’m the only goalie they got,” laughed the amiable Bjorgan.
The Roadrunners have developed into a competitive team, and had a grueling season this year, playing every week against local groups like the RCMP, Firefighters, KBS, and Teachers, not to mention the Smoke Eaters, B.V. Nitehawks, and Selkirk College Saints.
But the top two highlights for the team was a trip to Abbotsford for its annual tournament in January, and to Kamloops for the B.C. Winter Games in February in which Bjorgan backstopped the team to an impressive fourth-place finish.
Lattanzio, at 57, has been part of the SOBC-Trail team for a decade, and is a versatile athlete, competing in floor hockey, bowling, and bocce.
“My favourite is floor hockey,” says Lattanzio who says he enjoys the team aspect of the sport. “I like travelling and meeting new people . . . I met people from Kelowna and Vancouver, and it’s good to see them at the different tournaments.”
Lattanzio has been to so many events, he has lost track of the number of competitions, but looks forward to even more in the future.
“I don’t keep count, but I go to quite a few,” he said. “In January we went to Abbotsford, and that was good, and when we were in Kamloops we came fourth, and just missed the bronze, but we played against some tough competition.”
Most of whom are much younger than the three men, but Lattanzio notes that there are still a few veteran competitors on other teams as well.
“There are some old guys too, but, yes, most are a little younger.”
Still, the veteran tandem of Lattanzio and Emery showed no signs of slowing down as they teamed up to win the gold medal at the Wilbert Ackerman Invitational Bowling Tournament at Glenmerry Bowl last week.
Emery, Bjorgan, and Lattanzio will look to continue that kind of success in future events. And while they may have not quite discovered the fountain of youth, they have tapped into a successful way to stay healthy and happy by never losing sight of what’s really important.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Lattanzio. “I like it – it keeps me young.”