MELISSA – If you’ve just hit 50 and are looking for a new way to stay fit — and if you still enjoy competing in sports — and if you don’t mind going up against some of the top athletes in the country — please contact Melissa Independent School District Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Sharon Carroll. She may have just the thing for you.

Oh, and be ready to bring it.

Competing June 9-10 at the National Senior Games at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, Carroll claimed an impressive fourth place in the triple jump with a leap of 24 feet, 5 inches. It was her first foray into this high-level arena of competition, and her 50-54 age bracket was loaded with talent.

“I was pleased,” 50-year-young Carroll said recently at her MISD office. “After getting there and seeing that level of competition — I mean, they were legit.”

She noted that some of the participants compete at indoor track events year-round.

“A lady that I triple-jumped against set a National (Senior) record — by about three feet,” she said. “…There was a gentleman there in his 70s who set a new record in the 800 meters. He ran it in 2:30.”

Yes, this is a long way from 10-minutes-on-the-treadmill-where’s-my-latte? stuff. And it seems to be just what Carroll had been looking for. She’s served the district for 23 years, starting as a math teacher at Melissa Middle School and later becoming principal there. Carroll and her husband Shawn have two grown children, daughter Sloane, who just graduated from the University of Arkansas, and son Stratton, who recently started school at Arkansas as well.

Carroll said she had been hoping in recent years to find new ways to stay fit and healthy that might also include a bit of competition.

“You want to stay active but you want someone to push you a little bit too,” she said.

She had participated in track and field as a student at Whitewright High School — in relays and the triple jump — then stepped away from athletics while studying at Tarleton State University. Over the years, she did continue to play coed sports.

The National Senior Games Association holds national championships every two years at various locations. They’re like a mini-Olympics, with venues for 19 sports spread across the host area. The NSGA is a non-profit organization committed to helping senior adults lead healthy, active lives through education and competition. It began in 1985 as the National Senior Olympics Organization and since then, 16 National Senior Games have been held. Texas has hosted two of them – San Antonio in 1995 and Houston in 2011. These events have consistently attracted 10,000 to 12,000 athletes since 1997. Athletes compete only against others of similar age. The oldest age bracket? 90-plus.

Besides track and field, competition is offered in such varied sports as volleyball, basketball, softball, swimming, archery, horseshoes and golf. Participants may compete in up to three of them. NSGA-sanctioned State Senior Games are held every year, with their results being used as national-qualifying criteria in those years preceding national years. The NSGA bills its biennial national competitions as the largest multi-sport events for seniors in the world.

Carroll first heard about the NSGA four years ago on a camping trip with Shawn at Beaver’s Bend, Oklahoma.

“I was talking about how I wish I could still find a team to play basketball or softball,” she said.

An older couple camping nearby told her of their participation in the NSGA and suggested she try it.

“So I looked into it,” Carroll said. “I knew I wanted to do it… I was probably 46 at the time, so it was always in the back of my mind: ‘When I turn 50, I can do this.’”

But since most folks her age are still working and/or raising kids, Carroll suspected getting a group together for a team event would be tricky. Sure enough, when 50 arrived she still had no prospects. Looking through NSGA materials, Carroll hit on track and field as something she could do by herself, and went for it.

Since Texas’s qualifying State Games for the 2017 Nationals had already been held, Carroll qualified instead at the Louisiana State Games in Lake Charles. She made the grade there not only in the triple jump, but in the 100- and 400-meter dashes as well. The first time she’d triple-jumped since high school was just before these games. (And her effort there was nearly a foot further than her National jump.)

“That experience was inspiring,” Carroll said, “because you did see people who were in their 80s and 90s having a good time competing. … But when you get to Nationals, it’s not only inspiring but you’re impressed. It’s another level.”

Soon after Lake Charles, Carroll realized the NSGA counted all of track and field as one sport. She could have competed in all the events, plus two more sports. So she decided to head to Oklahoma’s qualifier and, sticking with track, made the national cut in the long jump as well.

As Birmingham approached, Carroll opted not to compete in the running events, as she learned running them would mean reporting early for prelims and waiting three days for her main focus, the triple jump. On her first day of competition, Carroll placed 12th in the long jump but kept her sights on her favorite event still to come.

After some butterflies of anticipation the night before, she came through with a fine triple-jump showing. Shawn Carroll was with Sharon Carroll at both her state qualifying events and the nationals and been supportive of her goals.

“She had her mind set on competing,” he said. “I’m proud of her and the goals she sets for herself.”

Sharon Carroll sounds ready to push to the next level of NSGA achievement, now armed with more information and experience.

“I didn’t go to the Nationals to not compete,” she said. “I didn’t go for the fun of it, just to say I did something at 50. There are people that run marathons or climb a mountain when they get 50 because they feel like they need to do something different. … I know what to expect now. I know what it’s going to take to train.”

Two years from now, the National Senior Games will come to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Carroll plans to be there. She said she may even start going to state events in the off years.

“I stay active, but this gives me that motivation to compete that I miss out on at the gym,” she said.

And for Carroll, that makes all the difference.