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How a Sport-Filled Summer at the National Games Taught Me the Importance of Trying New Things

By Mary Lou Harris August 09, 2019 Health and Fitness

In a previous article, I reviewed several athletic competition sports venues dedicated to senior athletes. This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2019 National Senior Games held in beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The senior games offer an opportunity for seniors age 50 and over to compete in a myriad of sports. Nearly 14,000 athletes made their way to Albuquerque to participate. Many came with family and friends to support them, and combined travel and vacation with this event.

I will tell you about my personal experience, but first, let me share my observation of other athletes and their sports.

The senior games comprise of 20 sports categories, and many of those split up into more categories. Track and Field, for instance, includes distances from 100 meters to 1500 meters as well as pole vaulting, jumps, hammer throws, and more.

Not every athlete is built for or talented in every event, but most who come to the Games have found their passion.

Spectating Other Sports

While I participated in five separate events during the week, I managed to find time to do a volunteer stint and to watch other competitions. Although there is so much activity at different venues, here are a few I found:


Unlike the shuffleboard of my youth that I would see grandparents play in the park, this event was set up indoors in the convention center. It is slick, fast, and even my unpracticed eye could see the level of fitness exhibited by the participants.

Table Tennis

In age groups 50 through 90 and up, players battled it out at the fast-paced table tennis. As I watched, I imagined what these athletes must do to maintain their dexterity, concentration, and physical well-being.


Of the sports that I spectated, volleyball seemed to be the most physical, and the players, the most gregarious. That seems to bubble up in team sports where a camaraderie builds over time.

I saw that camaraderie and sense of fun as well when riding the shuttle bus with a couple of the women’s softball teams. There is a team spirit that continues through any age.

What Is Hot in Senior Sports

This year a number of sports have become popular in the Senior Games.


I have been hearing about pickleball for a number of years. Many senior communities have installed pickleball courts – similar to tennis courts but smaller. If you are looking to get started in a sport, this may be for you. It is popular with many age groups, but particularly seniors.

Power Walking

The power form of competitive walking is less technical than race walking and is a great way to take your walk up a notch. This year the senior games allowed open registration for this category with no qualifying standard.

My friend watched one of the power walking competitions with me. She decided on the spot to talk with her doctor and get his stamp of approval when she returned home. She is looking forward to finding a local power walking club.

If you would like more information on getting involved with power walking, check out the US Power Walking Association’s website.

Competing in New and Former Events

I’ve participated at senior games in some past years, always in the road races. This year I did what I am encouraging you to do: I tried something new.

In addition to road races, I qualified at the state level in several track events, the 400-meter, the 800-meter, and the 1500-meter.

The 400-meter event was tough, and I failed to make it out of the preliminary round. The 800 and the 1500 meter were slightly better where I placed in the top eight finishers.

It was a great experience and I will do it again, knowing my strength is in the longer distances. I learned a great deal from several other women in my age group who have experience far beyond mine.

I placed in the top eight in my old standby races, the 5K road race and the 10K road race. My moment to remember was realizing that I was standing near Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, and she had placed just ahead of me. She was one of many interesting and inspiring women I met along the way during the Games.

Finally, it’s worth noting that in four of my events, the women who placed first in my age group (70-74) set new records for the distance. The level of competition is high, and it is exciting to be there as this happens.

So, do you find your interest piqued? Then, how do you begin to get involved?

Determine Your Sport

Some of us have continued in a specific sport off and on since our youth. Others have decided to give a new sport a try in their senior years. Check out all the sports available at the National Seniors Games.

Begin at the State Level

The next competition at the state level will be in 2020, but you can begin practicing or learning a new sport now.

Not every state has every sport available. If your state doesn’t have what you are looking for, a neighboring state may – and most will – allow out-of-state residents to compete and qualify. Check the date your state will be holding competition.

Mark your calendar for the registration date for the 2021 National Senior Games.

Sometime during the year, each state will post upcoming information and dates when competitions will be held. State competitions are held in even-numbered years, national competition in odd-numbered years. Keep an eye out for your State Games!

Did you compete in sports anytime during your life? Did you enjoy the camaraderie? If so, did you stop for career, family, or health reasons? Would you consider restarting or beginning anew with an untried sport? Please share with the community and let’s have a discussion!

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The Author

Mary Lou Harris is a proponent of active living, community volunteerism and inquisitive travel. After a post age 60 retirement from a career in public service, she expanded those interests to include ultra-trail running, hiking and extended-stay travel. She can be contacted through her website or on Twitter at @stillarunner.

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