PITTSBORO — The venue was smaller. The conversations came through car windows. And the announcements were broadcast on an empty radio frequency, 88.3 FM, so those parked at the back of the Eastern Chatham Senior Center lot on Thursday could hear them.
But it was still a safe, in-person and socially distanced ceremony — and for that, Liz Lahti, the head coordinator of the Chatham County Senior Games, was proud.
“We wanted to have your back,” she told an audience of participants, who sat facing her in Hondas and Hyundais and Buicks. “You trusted us and did your part, and here we are today.”
And a slew of elderly athletes and artists, who in any other year would have competed and caught up in-person, honked their horns back in celebration.
The event marked the end of a months-long adjustment period by the Chatham County Council on Aging, which puts on the local games with the help of sponsors.
The organization canceled in-person events, including all athletics, on May 1, and held its first ever online SilverArts contest in the month of June. And after weeks of preparation, it captured some semblance of normalcy with drive-by events at both its Western Center in Siler City (on July 22) and Eastern Center in Pittsboro (last Thursday).
At the latter of the two events, around 35 cars (and about 50 total participants) were on scene. They heard from Lahti and other speakers, who announced the winners of the SilverArts competitions, and picked up gift packages consisting of a Senior Games-branded T-shirt, water bottle and facemask.
“It’s about fun and fellowship, and I can still feel that fellowship even though we’re farther away than we’d usually be,” Dennis Streets, the Council on Aging’s executive director, told the crowd.
The Senior Games added a “Honoring Frontline Heroes: We’ve Got Your Back” theme to the 2020 ceremonies, applauding the Pittsboro police officers and Chatham County sheriff’s deputies who helped with logistics and parking. Jeff Strickler, the president of Chatham Hospital, also spoke at the event.
“Our focus is on wellness,” Strickler said, “and I can’t think of anything that represents wellness more than the Senior Games and SilverArts.”
After a recognition of sponsors, the morning transitioned to its most suspenseful segment. Don Lein, a Senior Games steering committee member, and Neriah Edwards-Boone, a Council on Aging board member, split duties in announcing winners across the 19 SilverArts competitions.
Lahti said 70 people had voted online for the contest via Google Form in the month of June, awarding gold, silver and bronze medals along with a separate “crowd-pleaser” award to entries in everything from crocheting to poems to oil paintings to needlework.
As Lein and Edwards-Boone announced medalists across the heritage, literary, performing and visual arts categories, winners physically present in the parking lot honked and flashed their lights while the Chatham Charmers, a senior cheerleading group, waved purple pom-poms.
After the hour-long event, cars filed out of the lot, one by one, and picked up any medals they’d won (along with the aforementioned gift packages) from a pop-up tent.
But before the riders disbanded from the official end of an ever-evolving and ultimately salvaged 2020 games, Lahti had one more message for Chatham County’s seniors.
“Thank you, stay safe and see you at the games next year,” she said.
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