In what looks like a converted train station, athletes from as far away as South America gathered in north suburban Highwood this week for what promised to be a fierce four days of competition.
You could tell they were athletes because that’s what the tags said dangling from their necks — that, and the sleek warm-up suits with the names of their countries stitched on the back.
But along with the teenagers, some of the competitors in the 2019 Women’s Pan American Bocce Championships were in their late 50s, perhaps older.
“I’m watching the Argentinians stretch, and they don’t have 58-year-old muscles,” said Lisa Dobeck, part of team USA. “They’re over there looking cute and perky.”
Bocce — an Italian version of lawn bowling — isn’t like other competitive sports. Youth and agility aren’t prerequisites.
“That’s the beauty of the game — it doesn’t matter how old you are,” said Leo Giannotti, the coach of the USA team. “It’s a game of eye-hand coordination and you don’t lose that at any age. If you’re able to walk and bend over and roll a ball, you’re able to compete against all of them.”
That perhaps explained why some of the competitors looked old enough to be the grandmothers of some of the others. The younger players jogged alongside the Bocce courts Wednesday, while some of the more mature competitors slowly eased into their stretches.
And as to be expected, as the competitors began their practice throws on the courts, old Italian love songs floated down from the speakers; older Italian men with fading accents looked on and reveled in past Bocce glories.
Dobeck, a chemist from California, described herself as “highly competitive” and hoping to take home a medal.
“I’ve played a backyard game with eight guys and we were all playing to the death,” she said.
Cecilia Fazioli, part of the Canada team, said Bocce is more than competing.
“It’s to meet people, to see people we played 20 years ago,” she said. “Some are here, some are gone. What counts is to encourage the youth. A family with no kids has no future.”