Participants find health, social benefits at Senior Olympics

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Sep 22, 2018 at 6:44 PM

The First Tennessee District Senior Olympics represented more than just competition for Joan Conant. Her involvement in Saturday's track meet at Kermit Tipton Stadium was another reminder how the retired RN from Kingsport had overcome so much to participate in events like the shot put at age 78.

Decades earlier, Conant was a teenage bride and mother. With the unexpected death of her husband in her 20s, she found herself a widow with serious health problems raising four children. She had been diagnosed as an asthmatic with the first stages of emphysema at age 24.

"I had kids who were 2 months, 2 years, 6 years and 7 years old when my husband died," Conant said. "I planned on dying first because I was on oxygen most of the time then. For a number of years if I went shopping, I had to go in a wheelchair and have oxygen. I decided I had to keep pushing, pushing and pushing.

"When I was 30, I was walking around the track one day when my doctor spotted me. He came up to me and said, 'What do you think you're doing? I've listened to your lungs and you can't do this. You will die right here on this track.' But I just kept pushing, pushing and pushing."

She kept pushing for more than two decades, finally getting into the Senior Olympics at age 55. Still, her challenges weren't over. Often when she finished a race, there wouldn't be any feeling in her legs or feet.

There were other times when she still struggled with her breathing, but Conant was determined to not let it get the best of her.

"I used to carry a rescue inhaler with me. I thought, oh no, that's a crutch and I'm throwing that away," she said. "Sometimes even now when it's humid, I get really tired and short of breath, but I think the good Lord took care of me and I can breathe good. I will breathe deep and I will make it from there."

Always overcoming the odds, Conant is a 13-year cancer survivor and just two years ago in her 70s, she retired from a long career as a registered nurse. With participating in the Senior Olympics, she feels better than when she was one-third of her age at 26, or half her age at 39.

"I feel in great shape and I'm so thankful for the life I have now," she said.


Mick Williams, 56, is the director of supply chain and business technologies at Crown Labratories in Johnson City. He was also one of the strongest competitors out at the track Saturday.

Williams was in five races — the 50-meter dash, 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters and 800 meters, as well as the long jump. For him, the Senior Olympics meet gives him something to look forward to in a couple of different ways.

"When you put this date on your calendar, you back up and start working towards it," Williams said. "Once you do it a few years, you get to know the people here and you come for the camaraderie."

He racked up with the early morning competition by winning gold medals in both the 50- and 100-meter races. He added a silver medal in the 800 meters. For him, there is always the goal of improvement as well as the reward of seeing his hard work pay off.

"There are goals of trying to top what you did the year before and if you enjoy it, you can go do it at the state level and if you do well there, you can do it at the national level," Williams said. "It's what you want to put into it with what you get out of it."

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