Inspiring Ottawa Octogenarians: Lessons For The Future

When my dad invited me to get involved with his old-time hockey tournament it was supposed to be about raising a few dollars for LiveWorkPlay. HockeyFest (as it is now known) is into its third edition as an annual Ottawa event. It is a gathering of hockey players from local 60+ teams (including players in their 80s!). Although the players did end up donating more than $3000 (split between LiveWorkPlay and a Japan earthquake relief fund) I was surprised to find myself quite moved by the entire experience in several ways that had nothing to do with fundraising.

First off, I was shocked at how many of the players took the time to read the information about LiveWorkPlay that had been left out on a table in the lobby. My honest expectation with that is nothing at all. But this is a community of people who have great respect for each other and that means honouring the efforts of others. I was genuinely touched by the number of strangers who came up and engaged me in conversation about LiveWorkPlay with no solicitation on my part – I wanted to talk hockey!

Secondly, there is a lot to be learned from this particular community of senior citizens. I had one particular conversation (I mostly just listened) where two of the players talked with sadness about other senior citizens that live in isolation. “This is a family,” said Bob. “Yes it is,” says Mike. “I feel sorry for other seniors who don’t have a community like this in their lives. We all care about each other. The passion for hockey is what happens to bring us together.”

At an age when faith-based communities and other traditional reasons for people coming together are no longer meeting everyone’s needs, these comments certainly got me thinking about the rewards of pursuing one’s passions in life and sharing them with others.

Lastly, in some ways, being at the tournament reminded me of how time can sometimes seem to stand still. Case in point: at  a game on Friday my 71-year-old dad crashed into another player and sent him to the ice. Arriving back at the bench (after being chastised by the referee who is usually more of a token presence than an active disciplinarian) dad explained “What could I do, he ran right into me!”

I recall getting that very same explanation watching my dad play back in the 1970s when I was about 8 years old and he was knocking the innocent to the ice. That “What, who, me?” look on his face hasn’t changed a bit. A big part of “staying young on the inside” seems to be staying in touch with the joys of our youth, maybe even rediscovering hobbies and interests decades after we originally let them go.

I ended up spending most of my Friday night producing a video for the Saturday night tournament banquet. Nobody asked for that, but it seemed to me that the induction of octogenarian into an 80+ hockey hall of fame deserved to be captured and celebrated!

I hope you’ll watch the video. It’s interesting comparing the two somewhat different ways that CBC (French) and CTV Ottawa covered the event. Stories about senior citizens “being active” are certainly not uncommon, but I find that they are often very patronizing. I have a strong radar about that kind of thing because at LiveWorkPlay we are always seeking respectful portrayals of people with intellectual disabilities, but far too often the focus is pity-oriented and condescending.

We need to stop celebrating that people with disabilities or senior citizens or some other population have the audacity to live full lives. We should expect that they will – and make sure that we don’t put up barriers that make a full life difficult for them.

About Keenan Wellar

Keenan is a citizen of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) and co-leader of a social change and community benefit organization,, a registered charity which helps the community welcome and include people with intellectual disabilities, autistic persons, and individuals with a dual diagnosis to live, work, and play as valued citizens. LiveWorkPlay was named Ottawa's Best Non-Profit of 2019 by the Ottawa Board of Trade and Ottawa Business Journal "Best Ottawa Business Awards " With Julie Kingstone, Keenan is co-owner of Wellstone Leadership Services, dedicated to supporting a culture of excellence for non-profit, private sector, government organizations, collaborations, and partnerships. Keenan is a founding member of the leadership group for the From Presence To Citizenship collaborative. Keenan is a regular guest (monthly) of the News 1310 Power Lunch radio show, and he writes the monthly NPQ North column for Nonprofit Quarterly. When not working and supporting various social causes, Keenan loves kayaking and wildlife photography, cheering for the Ottawa RedBlacks and Pittsburgh Steelers, and causing a disturbance on social media.
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