Racing for a purpose

Inspired by her brother, 74-year-old
Chavis rides to victory in Senior Games

Delores Chavis took home a gold medal for her first-place finish in her age group of the 5K bike race.
Photo submitted

By Bria Wesley
Special to the Outlook

When Delores Chavis had to adjust her training routine because of COVID-19, her brother, Jessie Albert, was right there to cheer her on.

The extra push motivated her during a time that she and several other Tallahassee seniors were working their way back to a routine they’d become accustomed to. They wanted to be in top form to compete in the Capital City Senior Games.

The games became a reprieve from COVID-19 for Chavis, 74, and her peers. They eagerly returned to competition this past spring after the pandemic disrupted the games last year.

Chavis competed in six events, including cycling, which she called her most anticipated challenge. The 5K bike race was one of the events postponed when the pandemic wiped sports events off the calendar. 

During the months that Chavis had to quarantine, she was kept from training in the gym. She didn’t stop being active, though. She adjusted her training schedule to daily walks and biking around her community.

Big brother Jessie was there most of the way. Sometimes he called her “queen,” as he did his other female siblings. As race day approached, Jessie contacted his sister for one last pep talk. It turned out to be the final time the two would talk.

“He called to encourage me and told me everything was going to be alright,” said Chavis, who on the eve of the race was overwhelmed with anxiety. 

But she went from anxious to melancholy just three hours before the 5K race. She received a dreaded phone call telling her that her brother died. She was stunned. Doubt entered her mind about going through with the race.

 “I almost didn’t participate,” Chavis said, “but I knew he would want me to.”  

Driven by the encouragement she’d gotten from her brother, Chavis recalled his words and kept peddling on. 

Believing that her brother’s spirit was present, she repeatedly called on him to help her through. When the  halfway mark seemed unattainable, she called on Jessie once more.

“I was riding the bike; got so tired and said ‘oh, Lord, I need a little help,’ ” she recalled.  “Now, Albert, is the time I really need your help to make it back to the finish line.”

She suddenly felt a burst of energy that got her to the finish in a time of 29 minutes and .01 seconds. That was good enough to place first in her age division.

Winning wasn’t the only accomplishment for Chavis. She felt compelled to enter the race with a sense of purpose.

“Knowing that there were little to no Black people participating in cycling,” she said, “really sparked my interest.”

She decided to give it a try.

Chavis wasn’t a loner in the games. She was joined by three other friends, including 92-year-old Fannie Mae Baker, who was the torch-bearer in the closing ceremony.

“I enjoyed the games,” said Baker. “Some of these sports I haven’t played in a long time and we got a chance to get involved.” 

Baker made her debut in bowling and emerged with a gold medal. She also took gold for winning the bag toss competition.

Despite her age, Baker refused to be sedentary. She found the games to be a perfect escape from the couch.

“I see a lot of people just sitting down instead of getting up and doing something,” said Baker. “This will keep you moving and keep you going. All seniors should get involved with the senior games and participate.”

Baker has already set new goals for future games. Pickle ball and the horse shoe are her next targets.

Athletes who compete in the senior games can qualify for the Florida Senior Games State Championships for an opportunity to compete for berths to the National Senior Games. Since their inception 10 years ago, the games have grown to attract about 500 participants on the local level in recent years.

With COVID-19 protocols in place during this year’s games, participants didn’t have their fan base of family and friends to cheer them on. 

“Athletes were allowed only one individual with them, so family and friends weren’t encouraged to attend,” said Sheila Salyer, Manager of Senior Services at the Tallahassee Senior Center. “On the upside, many of the games were held outside which loosened many restrictions.”

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