Luckily, there were trees.
I claimed my patch of shade that Wednesday morning in June along with the other women in the 65-69 age group waiting to be led to the starting line of the 800-meter run at the 2019 National Senior Games. Our race would begin as soon as the women 70-74 finished theirs.
Alas, the shade did not extend to the beautiful University of New Mexico track as the Albuquerque sun scorched the mile-high, bone-dry air. Soon I would be running with a mouth that felt like cotton. One runner described preparation for races in the southwestern climate as “drink, pee, drink.”
Roberta from Colorado said her son told her there was a lozenge that would keep the mouth moist. Had anyone else heard about that? The rest of us lived in humidity so, no, we had no knowledge of any salivation-promoting candy. Besides, I would probably choke on it.
An athlete in full makeup was dousing her capris and sleeves with water. I had on shorts and a tank top, but I thought it was an interesting idea to wear more material but wet it down to keep the body cool.
At that point, just before the run, serious athletes would be surveying the competition, but that was hardly the vibe that day. We were just women of the same age, for the most part strangers laughing together, doing something a little unusual.
We all downplayed our abilities, with a handful of us, including me, predicting we’d be the one to finish last. Typical!
At my javelin event, Linda from California acknowledged her achievement as the world champion only to add a diminishing caveat: “Well, only in my age group.” She then threw that spear more than 100 feet, a distance I can only dream of.
The Senior Games organization, sometimes called Senior Olympics, starts at the state level, pitting athletes against each other in five-year age groups from 50-54 all the way to 95+. (There are people 100 and older competing, but not enough to have their own category – yet. Senior Games legend Julia Hawkins is 103 years old and crushing records!)
At the 2017 Nationals in Birmingham, Alabama, a fellow Senior Olympian informed me that two types of athletes showed up at these games: competitors and participants. “You’re a participant,” he said. “Soon women like you won’t qualify for Nationals. Title IX [Nine] changed everything.”
I may not have appreciated the mansplaining, but what he said made sense. Title IX took effect in 1972 as a federal ruling requiring girls to have the same access that boys had to educational programs.
After that date, public schools and other federally funded institutions began establishing girls’ teams in every sport offered to boys.
Someone like me, who took up a modest running routine at age 40, would have no chance against former collegiate stars who still would be sharpening their competitive edge as older athletes.
This lands women over 60 in the unique position of being the last of our kind to stretch our competitive muscles in a forgiving field, something that more women are starting to figure out.
“In 2006, when I started entering the state meets, only one or two women competed in javelin and shot [shotput],” Cathy of California told me. “Since then I’ve seen an explosion of women.”
At this year’s Nationals, more than 13,000 men and women competed, and it’s not just track and field – far from it.
Teams compete in basketball and softball; individuals vie for titles in swimming, bowling, golf, cycling, tennis, racquetball, pickleball, table tennis, power walking, race walking, archery, badminton, shuffleboard, and horseshoes. There’s a triathlon and a road race.
So, no matter what activity appeals to you, Senior Games provides an attractive opportunity for any reason you have.
There are always first-timers entering every age group at Senior Games. One of my 800m competitors, Caren from Florida, was 62 when she noticed a sign at her workplace that the Senior Games were coming to a nearby city.
Intrigued by the track and field listing, she signed up for a race even though she hadn’t run in decades. She began training and has been competing ever since. The athlete who probably gets the most press is 103-year-old Julia Hawkins, who had competed in cycling but took up running sprints only at age 100!
One athlete in great shape told me, “I don’t need to win; I do this because I’m a fitness freak.” We all compete against ourselves, but formal competition supplies adrenaline to help you top your personal best and gives you the added perspective of the number you need to hit to be very, very good for your age.
It’s fun to meet like-minded seniors. Sponsored get-togethers encourage athletes to mingle and, over the years, you see a lot of the same people. You can extend the friendship as far as you want.
Women looking to date men can take advantage of being outnumbered by the opposite sex for a change; same-sex dating possibilities exist as well.
Lots of couples compete. Shirley from North Carolina was regularly doing aerobics and lifting when her husband suggested that she join him in Senior Games competition.
“Until I started entering races, I didn’t know I had that speed!” says Shirley, who also throws shotput and discus. “Seeing how well I could do gave me the confidence and motivation to train harder.” She and her husband now motivate each other.
My husband, too, introduced me to the Games. I was getting bored just attending the meets to support him, so now all summer long we train together at the neighborhood high school track, plus we compare strategies and experiences. We always have something to talk about.
Birmingham, Albuquerque, and similar locations for state meets may not be glamour capitals of the world, but it’s fun to explore this country’s mid-size cities.
I overheard one javelin athlete musing to herself, “Every time the event starts, I just want it to be over.” I asked her why she enters if that’s the way she feels. At first, she couldn’t identify what it was that hooked her into competing, but then she lit up and said, “I just really love to throw the javelin.”
Pole vault is considered one of the toughest feats of the Games, senior athletes still do it with passion.
After what felt like an eternity, our group finally paraded to the 800-meter starting line. I ran around that hot track two full times in 4 minutes and 56 seconds, placing me no worse than third from last.
My 66-year-old face beaming with pride, I remembered a common encouragement at Senior Games: you’re here, you’re trying your hardest, and that’s what makes us all champions.
What sports do you engage in? Do you compete or exercise for recreation? Have you thought about entering the Senior Olympics? What’s stopping you? Please share with our community!
Tags Fitness Over 60