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Photos: Even at a slower pace, these Tri-City soccer players still have love for the game

The Tri-City Walking Soccer Club gets together for pick-up matches every Tuesday at Gates Park in Port Coquitlam.

The Tri-City Walking Soccer Club is proof in the pudding: you can take the players out of soccer, but you'll never take the soccer out of the players.

The club started several years ago as an adjunct to the Dartmen, an affiliation of weekend warriors who've grown old together playing sports like traditional running soccer as well as baseball and hockey.

As members started to hit their mid-50s, many realized they were losing their stride. But instead of giving up sport altogether, they just decided to slow it down.

Walking soccer is just like it sounds, a modified version of "the beautiful game" without contact and played at a pace more comfortable for aging knees and joints.

It's also played seven-aside on a smaller pitch — about half the size of a regular soccer field — at Port Coquitlam's Gates Park.

Jim Swelander, who started the Dartmen in Burnaby back in 1969, said as the group has embraced their golden years, the social aspect of their sporting endeavours has taken precedence over competition.

"It's about making new friends and staying in contact with old ones," he said.

When the group, which ranges in age from 55 to over 70, invited women to start playing in their soccer matches the camaraderie and post-game revelry kicked up a notch with organized get-togethers every week at the Cat & Fiddle pub and other social events.

Denise Spletzer, 68, said she first attended a walking soccer match as a spectator but quickly decided the club needed a female touch even though she’d never played soccer before.

"I like to get exercise," she said

Spletzer invited some of her friends from her fitness class and from an initial contingent of seven just a couple of years ago, there's now 43 women participating in the club's mixed division alongside its male membership of 93, some of whom stick around for the more competitive men’s division afterwards.

Swelander said not everyone in the club comes out at once, of course. Players come and go for the regular Tuesday matches that run year round (the league heads indoors to a facility in New Westminster during December and January) and new teams of seven players are created every week from those who do show up to play in the 25-minute halves.

Sue McInnes said the soccer matches are a way to bring back some of the competitive fire she last felt when she used to play field hockey in her younger days. But it's the new friendships she treasures most.

"It's fun," she said. "The social aspect is the best."

Swelander, who leads all the players through various warm-up exercises and skill drills for about an hour before the matches begin and then coaches from the sidelines once the opening whistle blows, said it can be a bit of a challenge keeping everyone on the straight and narrow given the wide range of soccer experience and ability on the pitch.

"It's okay, as long as you have patience," he said. "You've just got to remember you're here for fun."

If you’re interested in joining the Tri-City Walking Soccer Club, you can email Swelander directly.