BRADENTON -- At age 76, Jay Whelchel can no longer run or jump on a basketball court.
But he has a gunfighter's eye and a deadly aim on a basketball court. He sinks one ball after the other from the free-throw line.
Even though his physical skills have diminished with time, it's clear that the competitive fires still burn.
Manatee County is sending a diverse group of athletes, including Whelchel, to the 2014 Florida Internation
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al Senior Games and State Championships in Fort Myers Saturday, Dec. 6 through Sunday, Dec. 14.
Whelchel said he hopes to show that he is still the best free-throw shooter for his age group in the state. Twelve out of 15 years that he has competed, he has brought home the top award. One room of his Bradenton home is filled with ribbons and trophies.
As a teen, Whelchel was a pole vaulter, and as a young man he was a competitive runner.
"I have always been a good shooter," he says, adding that he keeps his aim true practicing at the YMCA on 59th Street West.
Younger players often aim for nothing but three pointers, which diminished their skill at the free-throw line, he said.
Also headed to Fort Myers is Patricia Bond, 77, who will be competing in five swimming events: the 200 freestyle, 100 individual medley, 100 breast stroke, 500 freestyle, 50 backstroke.
At first glance, she seems almost wispily thin, but then it becomes evident that no, she is really just toned and sleek. She is a serious, competitive athlete.
She began running as she approached age 40, and then competed in triathlons.
"I have to keep busy. I swim, and I lift weights. I do yoga as well. It helps me with my flexibility and balance," she said.
Bond has taken part in the Senior Games since 1997, and in 1999 was named female athlete of the year.
"It motivates me to stay active. I look better and feel better. It keeps me from becoming a couch potato," she said.
While Bond sets out to win, she said the Senior Games are more fun than anything else.
"Don't be afraid to try. But you should practice before you go out there," she said. "It's a good way to meet people with something in common. It helps keep you feeling young."
Gary Romesser, 64, will also be at the Senior Games, running in the 5K event.
He is a lean, mean, running machine.
"I've just come off several 100-mile weeks," he said of his preparation for state competition.
He hopes to run a 6-minute pace for each mile at Fort Myers.
His record over 48 years of running includes more than 30 marathons and recognition the No. 1 ranked senior grandmaster.
"I still work to get out there and do my best," he said, allowing that he is coming off rotator-cuff surgery and a bout of tendonitis.
Bob Lerow, 59, of Lakewood Ranch will be competing in Fort Myers in racquetball.
Even though competition is intense, the Senior Games are a little more laid back, Lerow said.
"This is more of a friendly endeavor. It allows you to catch up with people you haven't seen in a while. You are playing with people your own age and you can relate to each other," Lerow said.
Participants in the state games qualify through local competition.
The 2015 Senior Games in Manatee County are set for Feb. 17-22.
James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.