On Monday mornings at 7, 60-year-old Diane Bock takes part in practices for one of her community’s many track teams. After track, Bock participates in an aerobics class, and in the afternoon she golfs. On Tuesdays, Bock plays pickleball, softball, and then gives pickleball lessons.
All before lunch.
Bock, an Iowa native, now lives in a community in central Florida called The Villages, a 15-by-20-square-mile, 55-and-older active community with an average age of about 63. Of the 465 athletes from Florida competing in the National Senior Games, 110 are from The Villages or its immediate surrounding area.
“The nice thing about The Villages is that you have that small, hometown feel,” said Bock, who earned a silver medal in the Senior Games women’s doubles pickleball competition. “Herald Schwartz, who was the founder, said his idea for The Villages was that the common person could live like a millionaire, and he’s made that possible.”
Bock said Villagers always have something to do. Within the area are three town squares with shopping, restaurants and live music every night from 5-9. Sometimes there are farmers markets and vendors. There are about 150 clubs, ranging from drama and dance to arts and crafts. There are also three movie theatres.
Most residents, particularly the 110 athletes at the Senior Games, take advantage of the 47 recreation centers. There are five fitness clubs, about 100 pools, 60 tennis courts and 600 or more holes of golf, including 15 18-hole courses designed by Arnold Palmer and Nancy Lopez.
“They call it a golf cart community because there must be 150,000 golf carts,” said Ernie Tomlinson, who has lived there for five years and is competing in mixed doubles pickleball.
Tomlinson, also an Iowa native, wakes up on a normal day at The Villages around 6 a.m., takes a walk with his wife and their dog around a lake, and then goes for a bike ride. He then plays pickleball and his wife either goes to a dance class or Bible study.
“One winter we were invited to stop by The Villages to see some friends,” said Tomlinson, 65. “Once we saw them we said, ‘What’s going on here?’ It was a nontypical 55-and-over community. You kind of think of a retirement community as a place where everyone plays golf and cards or something. This was absolutely not. Not even close.”
Bock has lived in The Villages for eight years and still feels like she is on vacation.
“It’s an unbelievable environment,” Bock said. “ … The weather lends itself to us being active for most of the year. Even when it’s hot, we go play pickleball, we hop in the pool. We go golf, we hop in the pool. We play softball, run track.”
The Villages puts on its own Senior Games event every year, but in the Twin Cities, Villagers are testing their skills on a national stage. At the same time, they will be promoting their community.
“We love our lifestyle,” Bock said. “ … People just have to come down. You can’t believe it. Until we moved down, we kept saying to our friends, ‘Well, tell us the downside, tell us the downside.’ They kept saying, ‘Well, there’s not a downside.’ ”