Tina Carmack gripped a blue foam ball with both hands. Her eyes focused on the 5-foot-tall basketball goal in front of her wheelchair. With a burst of determination, the small gray-haired woman tossed the ball and it swished through the net. The crowd around her cheered as she threw her arms into the air.
"I played basketball all through high school," said the 91-year-old Carmack, a resident at Applingwood Healthcare Center. "I made two out of three baskets, but I really thought I'd get them all."
Carmack and hundreds of other seniors competed in wheelchair basketball, darts, horseshoes, and the beanbag toss last week at the 19th annual Nursing Home Olympics at the Agricenter.
"We patterned our competition after the real Olympics. At the end, we give out gold, silver, and bronze medals," said George Munchow with the local chapter of the Tennessee Health Care Association, the group that sponsors the competition.
Twenty-one local nursing homes competed at this year's event, and each group represented a different country. Before the games began, nursing-home volunteers pushed the mostly wheelchaired residents around the building for an opening parade.
Acting as the grand marshal, 102-year-old Aubrey Lawhorn of Applingwood Healthcare led the way. The other residents of Applingwood, representing Greece in togas and gold-leaf headbands, followed her lead.
The residents of Primacy Healthcare & Rehab Center wore shirts bearing the Italian flag. Many also had red bandanas tied around their necks, and one white-haired man sported a fake black mustache. Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehab Center residents donned Mexican-style panchos and sombreros, and Quality Care Center of Memphis seniors represented Africa in colorful dashikis.
After the parade, seniors lined up behind basketball nets and dartboards, taking turns shooting or tossing balls at their target. Volunteers made note of successful seniors who would be invited back for the play-offs later in the day.
"Nursing homes start preparing for this two to three months before they come," Munchow said. "It gives the residents something to be excited about. And it's a chance for us to get all the local nursing homes together at one function."
Lisa Roman, activities director at Applingwood, said her team began preparing several months ago. The residents practice basketball and beanbag toss twice a week. Some even play virtual bowling on Nintendo Wii to get in shape for the event.
"We meet as a group and decide on our costumes and theme. The residents vote on everything," Roman said.
Applingwood resident Sarah Jenkins designed the Greek toga costumes, but she passed away just days before the Olympic tournament. Jenkins' efforts paid off, though, when the group took home the award for "Best Overall Theme."
Other seniors took prizes for athletic ability. Patricia Valentine from Quality Care Center won the gold medal for the beanbag toss.
"I practiced for this, but I'm surprised by my win," Valentine said. "I'm going to put this medal on my dresser."