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Card Club Deals Bridge for 13 Hours, Raises $22,000 for Alzheimer’s Association

The Longest Day Santa Barbara Rufnsluffers Lois Sutherland, Jackie Inskeep, Sue Bower and Barbara Power keep their wits sharp as they participate in a marathon of bridge.
The Longest Day Santa Barbara Rufnsluffers Lois Sutherland, Jackie Inskeep, Sue Bower and Barbara Power keep their wits sharp as they participate in a marathon of bridge. (Santa Barbara Bridge Center photo)

On the longest day of the year, June 20, 2016, card game enthusiasts packed 24 tables at the Santa Barbara Bridge Center in groups of four and celebrated the summer solstice by playing bridge for 13 consecutive hours to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association during Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month.

“I personally think it’s one of the best nonprofit cause relationships because bridge is trying to keep you mentally strong,” said Tish Gainey, a local bridge club manager and committee member of The Longest Day, a team-fundraising effort that takes place each summer solstice. “The goal of so many of our bridge players is to keep those senior moments to a minimum.”

The Santa Barbara Bridge Club Ruffnsluffers team created its name by blending bridge-playing strategies. It is part of the American Contract Bridge League and the league’s four-year partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association.

The Ruffnsluffers were one of about a dozen other teams throughout the California Central Chapter participating in The Longest Day, including a group of quilters and a presentation to the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority about the Alzheimer’s Association’s 10 Ways to Love Your Brain.

Even though other bridge teams have a longer history with the event, Gainey and her team captain, Jennifer Larkin (as well as their five-woman bridge club committee, including Maria Black, Dawn Ligon and Susan Case), set their hearts high for a first-time goal, aiming to be the number one bridge team in the nation raising money to help the Alzheimer’s Association on the longest day of the year.

Even before the sun popped up the day of the event, they had raised more than $15,000 through various sponsorships and preregistered four-person teams paying $300 each to claim a seat at a table. By the end of the longest day, the Ruffnsluffers brought in more than $22,000.

Larkin, of Carpinteria, and Gainey, of Montecito, got their team up and going at 8 a.m. for the breakfast round. The card marathon continued through boxed lunches and past the pizza-and-wine dinner. When the last game ended at 9 p.m., the stars were twinkling.

The day’s ringleader was Tom Ciacio, bridge game director for the entire 13 hours. About 100 total card players showed up, with 16 “marathoners” playing the whole day.

“There’s something about the game of bridge which takes a lot of mental acuity,” said Gainey, noting that players have to pay attention, count and problem solve, which use all parts of the brain and keeps players more involved mentally.

Jennifer Larkin, The Longest Day Santa Barbara Rufnsluffers Team Captain Click to view larger
Jennifer Larkin, The Longest Day Santa Barbara Rufnsluffers Team Captain (Santa Barbara Bridge Center photo)

“My mom was an avid bridge player,” Larkin said. “She taught me how to play. She loved to play bridge. Everyone at the bridge center has someone in their life with some related experience.”

According to Larking, most bridge players do so to keep their mind active for fear of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“We value bridge for our brains,” she said. “It does keep those synapses firing — it takes a lot of brain power.”

Adding that bridge is a very competitive mental sport, Gainey laughingly said it’s interesting that the men tend to be the better bridge players.

“Maybe because we have other things going on in our lives,” she said.

Although Gainey has not been touched by Alzheimer’s, a friend of hers informed her that the local Alzheimer’s chapter has one of the best support groups.

“Our memories are supportive to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s,” Larkin said.

The Longest Day is a sunrise-to-sunset team event honoring the strength, heart and endurance of those facing Alzheimer’s disease.

While some play bridge, others run half-marathons, organize basketball tournaments or plan a day of painting.

Visit act.alz.org and click on The Longest Day to get involved or to start a team for next year.

For more information, visit alz.org/thelongestday and alz.org/abam or contact Mitchel Sloan at 805.892.4259 x102 or [email protected]. To learn the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and how to recognize them in yourself and others, click here.

— Andy Weisser writes for the Alzheimer’s Association.

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