Two or three days a week, Carroll “Blu” Walsh practices archery at Moore’s Chapel United Methodist Church in rural western Mecklenburg County.
Out of the back seat of his worn 2003 white Dodge Neon, Walsh unloads a homemade target composed of PVC pipe and cardboard. He takes aim at it with a 35-year-old, used bow he bought for $60 off the Internet, and arrows that were donated to him by a friend.
You could say that Walsh, 64, is the working man’s archer, except he doesn’t work.
He’s retired and his shooting prowess is showcased with the Senior Games, an organization that promotes activity and competition among men and women age 50 and older.
In the five years Walsh has competed in Senior Games, he’s turned into a nationally competitive archer. Despite living on a tight budget supported by Social Security and facing sudden health issues in the last year, Walsh makes sure he fits archery into his life.
“The idea (of Senior Games) is to keep people healthy and active and keep them out of nursing homes and give them something to look forward to,” says Peggy McDonald, chairwoman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Senior Games board of directors and this year’s local games coordinator.
Walsh and his wife of 39 years, Lynn, have lived in Charlotte for 20 years. Blu is originally from Seattle and spent six years in the Marine Corps before settling into a 30-year career in computer repair.
His job brought the family to Charlotte in the mid-1990s. Walsh spent his last five working years managing convenience stores.
He retired in 2014 but had picked up Senior Games three years earlier.
Although he’s interested in other sports, Walsh felt he was capable of participating in archery. He owned a bow he bought 20 years ago when his son was in Cub Scouts.
Walsh figured he hadn’t shot it since then. An outdoorsman when he lived in Seattle, Walsh quickly found an innate connection to his new sport.
“You shoot an arrow, then you wait,” said Walsh. “Then you hear a ‘thunk.’ Once you let go that’s all there is. I was better than I thought I was.”
In 2012, Walsh attended the state Senior Games in Raleigh and took first place in his age division, which qualified him for the national games in Cleveland the following year.
Walsh finished seventh.
But he says he learned some valuable tips on shooting a bow and arrow, such as how temperature and usage affects the strength of the bow which dictates how one aims.
Last fall, Walsh once again qualified for the ensuing year’s national competition. It was around the time he retired from working, which preceded a series of health issues that still linger.
A bladder infection put Walsh in the hospital for a week in October. He was diagnosed with diabetes shortly after Christmas when a visit to the VA hospital revealed his glucose had skyrocketed.
In March, Walsh spent another week in the hospital when his pancreas shut down. Only in the last couple months has Walsh been able to walk for exercise again. Doctors are trying to manage his diet to prevent weight gain.
Because of his health issues, Walsh was able to practice archery only twice before heading to the national competition in the Minnealpolis/St. Paul area in July. Because of his and Lynn’s strict household budget, the couple pitched a pop-up tent at various campgrounds while traveling.
Walsh finished in third place but felt he was good enough to place second. He returned home enthusiastic about training for this month’s state competition, which will be held Sept. 21-27 in Raleigh.
So, a few days a week, Walsh drives about five miles from his home to the pastoral setting of Moore’s Chapel United Methodist Church and practices.
In a grassy field, settled between the church’s cemetery where you will find 100-year-old tombstones from the Beaty, Fite, and Jenkins families, and a neighboring horse farm, Walsh fires away from distances of 60, 50, and 40 yards.
“It’s not so much as I win, it’s more about getting out of the house for a weekend,” said Walsh. “Senior Games keeps me active. It gives me something to do each week instead of watching TV. I get to socialize. I get to see other people.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: email@example.com.