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Golden Age Games provide respite for veteran

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 25, 2002

SPRING HILL -- Charles Chapman has been swimming most of his life.

Meets at Cooley High in Detroit. Events in Sarasota, Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Laps at the the Hernando County Family YMCA.

"It's something you get in the habit of doing," Chapman said. "If I don't do it on a regular basis, I feel like something's missing."

But there's one event the 72-year-old Spring Hill resident looks forward to more than any.

For the past 11 years, Chapman has competed at the National Veterans Golden Age Games, the largest sporting event in the world for senior veterans.

More than 500 veterans 55-and-older and receiving care at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility convened in Los Angeles Aug. 10-17 to compete in everything from checkers to croquet at the 16th annual event.

"When you see these fellas engaged in the Games, they're like 16-year-old kids again," Chapman said.

Chapman served in the Navy from 1947-53. A communications technician, he was stationed in Washington, California and Japan during the Korean War.

After leaving the military, he worked in auto sales for several years before opening a marine repair business. He and his wife, Shirley, were snowbirds 12 years before becoming year-round Florida residents about 3 1/2 years ago.

The Games serve as a respite for Chapman, who receives care for anxiety and depression at the VA medical facility in Bay Pines.

"These gentlemen are from all walks of life, ex-businessmen, ex-servicemen down on their luck, and it doesn't mean one thing," Chapman said. "When we get together, we're all the same."

Chapman got involved in the Games as an outpatient at the VA hospital in Battle Creek, Mich., in 1992. He was invited to Ann Arbor to compete on the recreational therapy team.

"I won a couple of gold medals and have been doing it ever since," he said.

Chapman's golds now number 28. He won one in the 25-yard freestyle swim this year, finishing in 14 seconds. Retired school teacher Clarence Braxton edged him in the 50 free (38 seconds).

Chapman came close to last year's winning times in quarter- and half-mile cycling but did not win a medal.

"It's a very touching thing when you see these fellas greet each other each year," Chapman said. "It's like one big family. But they go after those medals, I'll tell you."

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