WESLEY CHAPEL — Florida’s most active seniors will be flocking to Pasco County this weekend as the start of the Florida Senior Games kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 3.

For 31 years, this Olympic-style competition has been open to seniors 50 years and older who wish to compete in a variety of sports. The games are presented by Humana and co-hosted by the Florida Sports Foundation and Florida Sports Coast.

Although the Florida Senior Games won’t be televised, attendees can watch athletes compete at several locations around Pasco, Hillsborough, Broward, and Polk counties between Dec. 3-11. No ticket reservations are required and there is no charge for spectators.

“This is a brand-new slate in Pasco County, the first of three years,” said Nick Gandy, communications consultant for Florida Sports Foundation. “Pasco County is the ninth Florida community to host the games in multiple years and we’re really excited about that.”

In previous years, the Florida Senior Games have been hosted starting with Bradenton, Kissimmee/St. Cloud, Sarasota, Polk County, the Villages, Lee County, Clearwater/Pinellas County, and Greater Fort Lauderdale.

Gandy said the Florida Sports Foundation is looking forward to showing off some of the new facilities on the Florida Sports Coast, such as the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus and the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis and Wellness Center. The Wiregrass campus is 98,000 square feet with 70,000 square feet of clear span hardwood surface, volleyball courts, basketball courts, a dedicated cheer area and soccer fields.

The Sarah Vande Berg Tennis and Wellness Center boasts 23 courts, with athletes playing on 11 tennis courts, eight pickleball courts and four padel courts.

Athletes will be competing in everything from non-qualifying sports, such as archery, badminton, basketball (3-on-3), dominos, FootGolf, horseshoes, padel, powerlifting, power walk, race walk, racquetball, 5K road race and volleyball to qualifying sports, such as basketball shooting, bowling, cycling, golf, pickleball, shuffleboard, swimming, table tennis, tennis, and track and field.

Those who win in their sport will qualify for the 2023 National Senior Games from July 7-18 in Pittsburgh.

“It’s a wide range of competitiveness,” Gandy said. “There’s your athletes who set goals for themselves, they train hard to reach those goals and there’s your athletes who are just out competing for the camaraderie of sports. Being a statewide competition, it’s on everyone’s calendar every year. It’s just a get-together of old friends in most cases.”

Already more than 2,000 athletes have registered for the 2022 Florida Senior Games.

The oldest of which is Harry Clark, 96, who will be competing in tennis and is from Lady Lake. Seniors from outside of Florida may compete as well, and there will be representation from 36 states as well as from Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Canada.

There will be 84 athletes representing Pasco County in the games this year. Otis Perry is an 81-year-old from Wesley Chapel who has been competing in the Florida Senior Games since it started. This year, he will be competing in powerlifting, his second favorite sport, aside from track & field.

“I like competing in my age bracket and the camaraderie, it’s something to do,” Perry said. “I do it all; powerlifting, track and field, swimming and basketball. I’m retired, so all I have is time to train for different events.”

Val Thomopalos is 64 years old and from Land O’ Lakes. She is a serious pickleball player who has played in the 2020 and 2021 Florida Senior Games and the 2021 Sunshine State Games. Since getting involved with the sport, Thomopalos and her doubles partner, Kathy McCausey, have traveled around the state to compete.

“I have been an athlete my entire life, and pickleball gives me the opportunity to continue to compete against other athletes my own age and/or skill level,” Thomopalos said. “This sport has become an exciting obsession; for it makes me feel healthy and young at heart.”

Her passion for pickleball has led Thomopalos and McCausey to hold regular tournaments and give lessons as IFP Instructors.

Together, the two women share a goal to raise awareness and funds to help the Land O’Lakes Recreation Complex build permanent pickleball courts.

It all started when a colleague at USAA Tampa raved about the sport and encouraged Thomopalos to give it a try. At her first Florida Senior Games in 2020 with McCausey, the two learned fast that other seniors are still stealth athletes and fierce competitors.

“It was a real eye-opener, humbling, and inspirational,” Thomopalos said. “We licked our wounds and got busy training in preparation for the next Senior Games the following year.”

In 2021, Thomopalos and McCausey placed second and recently earned first place in 60+ Ladies Doubles in Tampa. Thomopalos will compete again this year and has hopes to travel the pickleball circuit with McCausey, competing at the Super Senior Pro Level.