Vol. 20, No. 18
July 19, 2001
Nursing prof guides softball team to Senior Olympics
Paula Klemm has been a nurse for 25 years, a doctor of nursing since 1990 and a UD professor since 1992. But, when it comes to softball, she said, "I've been playing all my life."
Klemm, who estimated that she actually played her first game around age 5, said she saw no reason to quit once she reached her 50s two years ago. This month, she and her teamthe Delaware Blue Chicks, who compete in the 50-54 age bracketwill represent the state in the national Senior Olympic Games, now under way in Baton Rouge, La.
Klemm serves as president of the team, which is incorporated as a nonprofit organization, and plays outfield. Also on the team is Jean Lane, health and exercise sciences, who works as a maintenance technician at Carpenter Sports Building and recently received the Delaware Amateur Softball Association's Sportswoman of the Year Award.
For women in particular, staying active in middle age and beyond is clearly a good health choice, Klemm said. Add in the benefits of friendly competition and camaraderie with teammates, she said, and the emotional and physical advantages of participating in Senior Olympics become even more apparent.
"As you approach, and then as you move past, menopause, you need to keep your bones strong and your mind active," Klemm said at a recent Saturday morning Blue Chicks practice at the Marbrook Elementary School softball field near Wilmington. "Every year, you lose muscle and gain fat unless you do something about it."
But, Klemm and many of her teammates said, softball is more than a way to stay healthy. It also can be a passion.
The team's web site, which Klemm designed, features a logo of a bat and ball with the slogan, "Softball is everything! The rest of life is just a distraction."
The Delaware Blue Chicks formed in 1997 as the first Senior Olympics women's softball team in the state and qualified for the national Senior Games in Orlando, Fla., in summer 1999. The team's first competition in Orlando was against the defending national champions.
"We held our own for the first five innings," before going down to defeat, Klemm said. Although she previously served as coach, as well as player and president, she said the multiple roles became too time-consuming. The team now has a board of directors and a nonplaying coach, 42-year-old Tina Robinson. When players reach age 55, many move on to the Delaware Gold Chicks, a team that competes in the Senior Olympics 55-59 age bracket.
Both softball teams consist of women from throughout Delaware and nearby areas of New Jersey and Maryland and from a variety of occupations. Some bring grandchildren with them to practices. Many participate in other Senior Olympics events in addition to softball, and a fewincluding 1999 discus gold medallist Pat Connell, mother of UD record-holding hammer thrower Brandy Connellhave earned national recognition in their sports.??
"Going to Orlando in 1999 was a great experience," Klemm said. "Everywhere you'd go, you'd see senior athletes, many in their 80s and 90s. Everyone would talk and trade stories, and it was wonderful. We expect Baton Rouge to be the same kind of experience."
Michelle Provost-Craig, health and exercise sciences, who has done research with older athletes in recent Senior Olympics Winter Games, said the participants she met could serve as inspirations for people of any age.
"These athletes are really models of successful aging," she said. "They provide a gold standard for the rest of us."
The 2001 national games are being held now through July 28. The Blue Chicks are the only women's softball team from Delaware participating in the national games this year. The number of teams in the state is increasing, however, Klemm said. "Our vision for the future is to have an entire Delaware league of senior players," she said.
The Blue Chicks are recruiting players age 48 and older who will be at least 50 in time to play in the summer 2003 Senior Olympics. More information is available on the team's web site, [www.geocities.com/blue_chicks_softball/].
Photo by KATHY FLICKINGER