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Seniors build community around video bowling

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Stories from the Heartland

By Amber Coulter

Ken Mizoguchi of Elizabethtown held his fists in the air and grinned widely Friday when he rolled a solid strike in the children’s area of E-Town Swim & Fitness Center on Ring Road.

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The next turn, he carefully reached across his body, grasped empty air and rolled an imaginary ball to fell more pins on the Kinect bowling game a group of seniors at the gym play together nearly every weekday morning.

The video game system converts physical movements into virtual activity, such as bowling.

Mizoguchi is 80, but he’s one of the handful of players in the group who have posted 300 points in a game, the maximum allowable.

He likes the physical activity and regularly seeing friends.

Upton resident Charles Wilcox said he goes to the gym to build up his arms.

At 85, Wilcox impresses a friend in the Army with his ability to do pushups.

He laughed and said the seniors invaded the children’s area and took over the Kinect games for a simpler reason.

“I just come to have a good time,” he said.

Wilcox loves getting out of his house and talking to his peers over coffee between frames.

Penelope Watkins, membership coordinator at E-Town Swim & Fitness Center, said getting seniors out and active is one reason gym officials love the way older members have built a fun routine around the Kinect.

Consistent movement gives players cardio activity, and game play encourages coordination and balance. For some players, the hour they spend bowling imaginary balls might be one of the few times they leave home and get active, she said.

Physical activity at any age is important, and it’s especially useful in holding off negative effects of aging, she said.

The most positive impact of the virtual bowling league is how social the players are, Watkins said.

“Happiness is always a cure to any sickness,” she said.

Watkins said gym officials let seniors joining know about the bowling group.

“We definitely take pride in encouraging our senior communities,” she said.

Seniors began playing the Kinect, which was bought primarily for children and teenagers, almost as soon as it was set up about a year ago.

“It was pretty instant,” she said. “They were pretty curious to find out what it was about.”

The group includes a high concentration of people who have served in the military or married or been raised by a military member.

That fact has spurred inevitable competitions of representatives from each branch bowling against each other as representatives of their respective branches.

Ralph Hager, who served in the U.S. Navy for 27 years, had bowled once before with his daughter’s Wii, which is similar to the Kinect.

Hager, 80, of Elizabethtown now bowls virtually each weekday with his wife and gym associates.

He thinks the game is all right, but he enjoys being active and spending time with friends.

The seniors have built a community centered on strikes, spares and heckling.

Becky Williamson of Elizabethtown had to stop playing for a while after her husband suffered a heart attack. She was glad to be back after he started feeling better.

“I really miss them when I don’t come,” she said.

Williamson, 65, enjoys her friends’ company and the comfort she gets from talking to them when she goes through tough times.

“Almost no matter what kind of a problem you’re having, someone else has had it, too,” she said. “We all support one another.”

Stories From the Heartland appears each Monday in The News-Enterprise. Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or acoulter@the newsenterprise.com.