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Senior Olympian takes home gold medal

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February 03, 2010 - Brandon Township is home to a gold medal Olympian.

Township resident Alice Churchill, 84, competed in bocce in the Michigan Senior Olympics on Jan. 27 at Palazzo di Bocce in Lake Orion and came in first with her 52-year-old bocce partner, Rick Howard.

"I was very surprised, I didn't expect it playing with all those babies," said Churchill, whose 93-year-old bocce partner had withdrawn from the competition, forcing her out of the over 80 division and into the 50-60 year-old division with Howard.

Bocce is a sport with Italian origins that resembles bowling and horseshoes. In the game, teams of two compete against each other by aiming their respective color bocce balls at a smaller ball called a 'jack,' getting as close as possible without actually hitting it. Churchill explains that she throws two balls, and her partner throws two. If they get closest, the other team has to knock their bocce balls away in the game, which takes about 45 minutes to play.

"A lot of it is luck," she noted. "If you throw too hard or too slow, it won't get there. You never know how far the ball is going to roll... I just try to beat the other guy out."

The retired A&P employee has been participating in the Senior Olympics for 20 years. "When I retired, I had nothing to do, so I got into everything," she said. "I had never thought about playing sports before, but I like meeting different people and the companionship and sportsmanship."

In the past, she competed in baseball, volleyball, golf, horseshoes, bowling and darts, every year, even going to nationals four times. She has "a slew" of medals from state competition and just missed a medal in bowling at national competition, placing fourth. After tearing her rotator cuff during a volleyball match in 1997, Churchill stopped playing most sports, unable to raise her right arm enough.

Four years ago, she decided to give bocce a try and enjoyed it so much she joined a league at Palazzo's. The gold medal she recently won is her third in the sport, and fourth medal overall. In the summer, Churchill joins other township seniors in playing bocce on the baseball fields adjacent to the Edna Burton Senior Center in Ortonville, but is looking forward to playing on a bocce court that will be built at the senior center this year.

"We play in the summer on Thursday mornings at 10 a.m.," said Churchill, a mother of three, grandmother to eight and great-grandmother of four. "You have to practice to get good. You learn to judge it, but it doesn't always go where you want it. I will keep playing until I can't anymore."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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