Four years ago, Nelson’s Wayne Naka got his first taste of the BC Seniors Games.
He signed on as sports director for the 2011 event, hosted jointly by Nelson, Castlegar, and Trail, having filled similar roles with the BC Summer and Winter Games in our area.
To familiarize himself with the seniors games, he went to the Comox Valley, which hosted them in 2010. He was astonished at the competition level. “For four days I was blown away,” he says.
Naka soon found himself voted in as the organization’s vice-president, putting him in charge of 25 sports and working with their respective provincial bodies.
This month, he was elevated to a two-year term as president, replacing June Parsons, who stepped down after seven years. In that time, a permanent office was established in Sidney. Although Naka admits having a leader from the interior is a “drastic change” he’s willing to give it a shot. “Can we do this? Of course we can, we just have to work harder at it.”
In his new role, Naka will have to ensure a connection between the games’ 12 zones, and clean up scheduling and rules. “We’re getting bigger but also getting better,” he says. “We’ve got way better athletes coming now in some of our real competitive sports. It’s important to solidify what we’re doing and have a great product.”
This year’s games in Langley were the largest yet, drawing nearly 4,000 participants, a number that is only expected to grow as the population ages.
Naka’s election coincides with the completion of a five-year strategic plan, which has been well received by the provincial government and major sponsor ViaSport. It also comes with a new name: the event has been rebranded the 55+ BC Games (although the society name remains unchanged). “It’s in line with 60 is the new 40,” Naka says. “We had 80 year olds who hated the name ‘seniors.’”
He also expects a revised bid package will make the games more attractive to communities outside the Lower Mainland. Kamloops hosted them last year, while next year’s games are in North Vancouver, and in 2016 they’ll be in Coquitlam.
As with the Nelson/Castlegar/Trail example, Naka says smaller communities have to work together because on their own they can’t provide the necessary accommodation or infrastructure. He’s hoping for a joint Cranbrook/Kimberley bid, for example.
Naka, 59, played and coached in the Western Hockey League in the 1970s and ‘80s and also coached high school basketball. Today he’s principal of Kinnaird elementary school.
He says his own age caught up to him suddenly. “I turned around and I was 55. I thought ‘This is weird.’” But he didn’t hesitate to get involved with the seniors games “because I believe in them. We want to do everything we can to promote healthy living 55-plus but also promote it to 55 and under. If I could give anything back, this is what I want to do.”