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National Senior Games: Yes, almost counts in horseshoes

Julia Manigo of North Carolina competes in the 90-94 age division for horseshoes at the National Senior Games. She won the bronze medal. (Roberto E. Rosales/JOURNAL)

It’s a dry heat, yes. But, boy, how it can sneak up on you if you’re not careful.

Julia Manigo and Tommy Holleman both hail from North Carolina, where the relative humidity on Thursday was in the 40s and 50s. But they both were in Albuquerque, where the humidity was in single digits.

Yet, while competing in the National Senior Games horseshoes competition on sunbaked concrete at Los Altos Park, they both felt the 90-degree heat.

Nonetheless, they persevered.

Manigo left with a bronze medal in the women’s age 90-94 competition.

Holleman put himself in prime position to win a medal in today’s men’s 75-79 finals.

Manigo, 91, of Fayetteville, is a versatile senior athlete. Earlier in the games, she won two gold medals (100 meters, long jump) in track and field.

Two years ago, competing in the 85-89 age group at the National Senior Games in Birmingham, Alabama, she won bronze in the long jump and in horseshoes.

Manigo has been competing in senior athletic competitions since 1992 or so — first in track, later in horseshoes.

“I just wanted to get into something else, other events,” she said after rehydrating with a juice box and a couple of clementines (baby oranges).

In her first match of the day, Manigo lost 20-13 to Kansan Wynne Mihura. During her second match, against fellow North Carolinian Mo Roberts, she was forced to take a break of 10 minutes or so.

She sat with a cold towel around her neck, but said later, “It was in my legs. I just felt weak in my legs.

“I guess the best thing is to keep moving on and get up that strength.”

And, after the break, Manigo did her best work of the day — making several ringers and one double ringer, good for six points. But she was unable to catch Roberts, losing 28-23.

“That’s the way I usually start off, even in my (earlier) game,” she said. “Start off slow, then about halfway I pick up.”

Manigo was guaranteed a bronze medal when the fourth player in the 90-94 age group, New Jersey’s Leticia de Guzman, forfeited their match.

Today, Manigo and her daughter, Sabrina, plan to head back to North Carolina by the same means they came — Amtrak.

“It took us at least two days,” Sabrina said.

“Three,” said her mom, or at least that’s how it felt. “But the scenery was good.”

Holleman, who hails from Ronda — halfway between Boone and Winston-Salem and the hometown of NASCAR legend Junior Johnson — was a silver medalist two years ago in Birmingham.

Thursday, he was hotter than the concrete at Albuquerque Horseshoe Club for most of the session. He won his first seven matches, compiling almost 100 more points than any other competitor in his age group.

In his final match of the day, however, he faltered.

“I just got dehydrated,” Holleman said. “I could feel myself getting weaker and weaker and weaker. I just couldn’t follow through right.

“I should know better, but I did. I got dehydrated, just weak as water.”

Holleman has been pitching horseshoes for years, but didn’t get serious until about 10 years ago.

“I’d always pitched at the house, at church, things like that,” he said. “But then I got into tournament pitching. That means you really need to practice and you need to be in a league like they have here.”

Holleman, a right-hander, is a “flipper,” meaning he grips the horseshoe by the base. A few of the NSG competitors are “turners,” meaning they grip the shoe by one of the shanks.

For his first seven matches, he was a model of consistency — the stride, the arm swing virtually identical on each pitch. The result was ringers galore.

“If you follow through and come through right, it’s a ringer,” he said. “If you’re off a little bit this way or (the other) way, you’ll know it and it’s off a little. It’s not a ringer.

“But the main goal is to always have a shoe in where it counts.”

And, yes, almost does count in horseshoes.

One other men’s 75-79 competitor, Tennessean Charles Kolitz, also made it through Thursday’s round with just one loss. But Holleman won their head-to-head match.

“We’ll be heads up (today),” Holleman said.

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