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Unsung Hero: Jo Dill, championing senior athletes

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Unsung Hero: Jo Dill, championing senior athletes

SCARBOROUGH — Jo Dill grew up in Kennebunkport in the late 1950s and early '60s, a time when most girls didn’t play sports.

But Dill wasn’t “most girls.”

“There were lots of boys in my neighborhood,” she said, “so I played sports all the time.”

Today, as coordinator of Maine Senior Games, Dill is dedicated to getting seniors – especially women like her, who weren’t encouraged to play sports as girls – actively involved in athletic competitions, both for fun and for health.

After high school, Dill headed north to attend Aroostook State College, now the University of Maine at Presque Isle, where she majored in health and physical education.

“That was before Title IX,” she said, “ so there weren’t many opportunities for girls to play sports.”

She set her sights on a career teaching physical education because, Dill said, “I naively thought I could reduce health-care costs in Maine if I could teach kids to live more healthy lives.”

Dill certainly did her part to improve health awareness among young people, spending over 30 years as a health and physical education teacher in the Biddeford and Kennebunk schools.

“Teaching physical education is great,” she said, “because it’s everyone’s favorite subject.”

Dill devoted every class to a “health minute,” during which she talked about various aspects of healthy living – nutrition, exercise, the dangers of smoking and drugs, etc.

She later applied her skills and knowledge to her position as executive director of the Maine Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

Because her parents both died of strokes, Dill also has found time to volunteer for the American Heart Association. Her extensive involvement in such activities as Jump Rope for Hearts earned her an Outstanding Volunteer Award from the Association.

Maine Senior Games, a program sponsored by the Scarborough-based Southern Maine Agency on Aging, features 21 days of events for seniors from June through October. The events, open to people over 45 years of age, run the gamut: track and field, swimming, basketball, table tennis, tennis, archery, cycling, pickleball, golf, a triathlon and more. Athletes in each event compete with those in the same age group: 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, and so on.

Last summer over 450 athletes competed in events sponsored by the Maine Senior Games. The youngest was 50 years old, and the oldest was 91. National competitions are held every other year, so the top four athletes in each event in Maine get to go to nationals.

In the final analysis, though, the Maine Senior Games are mainly about encouraging a healthy life style, and reducing susceptibility to diseases like arthritis and diabetes.

“Exercise produces so many benefits,” Dill said. “Getting out there doing something keeps you sharp and alive.”