After being delayed a year due to the pandemic, athletes from 35 states are flocking to Grand Rapids to compete in the 2020 USA Masters Games.
The Olympic-style games draw athletes from around the country to compete in an annually-shifting series of events. The first USA Masters Games, which is for athletes 21 and older, was hosted in 2016 in Greensboro, North Carolina, and has since traveled to San Diego, California before being hosted this year in Grand Rapids.
Hill Carrow, USA Masters Games CEO, said that after a long year of delays and planning, people are itching to return to sporting events.
“Well, needless to say, it’s been totally different, and certainly a bit of a struggle at times,” he said. “Everybody’s very excited to be coming out of the pandemic and into these kinds of events starting again.”
The bulk of competition runs this weekend through Sunday, June 27. Some games, like pickleball and cycling, have already competed to kick off the excitement early. Over 320 pickleball players alone came out to Belknap Park to participate.
This year’s games also mark a collaboration between the West Michigan Sports Commission and the Meijer State Games, who are helping host and facilitate events. The Meijer State Games and USA Masters Games share June 24-27 as the main weekend for events.
Eric Engelbarts, executive director for the Meijer State Games, said the collaboration is likely the first large-scale event for the region’s athletes. That sentiment has been welcomed wholeheartedly.
“It’s definitely a signal that sports are back in that West Michigan is being able to welcome these athletes in from across the country to be able to compete in their events,” he said. “There’s just this overall sense of enthusiasm to be able to get out there and be able to participate.”
Being hosted in West Michigan brings with it an opportunity to present some mitten flair, as Carrow said he encourages hosts to make their mark on the annual games. Grand Rapids’ contribution to the events were a handful of new sports: bocce ball, cornhole, footgolf, rowing, shooting sports, taekwondo and water skiing.
“We welcome each community to kind of put forward some sports that they feel are mainstays of their local region,” Carrow said. “We like changing the games each time around to kind of experiment, if you will, with different sports to see which ones are the most popular, and people really enjoy competing.”
The mix of events makes each iteration of the USA Masters Games unique, and Engelbarts said that’s something he’s excited to be a part of as it joins forces with local partners this year.
“You know, it kind of gives Grand Rapids the opportunity to put a stamp on the events and that’s exciting,” he said.
Carrow noted that the host city often benefits from an influx of tourism surrounding the games, and with the city’s sprawling hospitality, he said Grand Rapids is no exception. Much of that builds into the friendships that form around the competition – as athletes often grab a meal with each other after a day of games.
“So it’s a really great set up,” Carrow said. “(Grand Rapids) is scenic and attractive, and the people are very welcoming and hospitable. It is a really good location for something like the Masters Games where camaraderie and social aspects are certainly as important as the competition.”
More information and a schedule of events can be found online.
Note to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission.