Washington State Senior Games: “We helped start this”

For our final article in our senior games coverage, we are highlighting Lisbeth and Dave Naber, long-time residents of Panorama in Lacey, Wash., and active participants of the senior games since 1990. It is because of their and other sports-minded seniors’ efforts in the late 1990s that Washington State has its own senior games.

Lisbeth and her shot putSeeing the fun other seniors were having at the Pennsylvania Senior Games convinced Lisbeth and Dave Naber to participate themselves. Lisbeth recalls reading about the games in a newspaper, and after attending the event to learn all about it, they signed up the next year. When they joined the games in 1990, the Nabers were in their 60s, the average age of most competitors, and 25 years later, Lisbeth is still participating.

Lisbeth, who grew up in Denmark, says she spent a lot of time on her bicycle as a child, but wasn’t really into sports. But you wouldn’t think that, looking at the number of events she has participated in over the years at the senior games.

At their first senior games in Pennsylvania, Lisbeth competed in the 1.5k and 2.4k race walks and the softball throw, while Dave competed in the 1.5k race walk, stationary bike and basketball. Lisbeth’s time in the 1.5k earned her a silver medal and a qualifying time for the 1991 National Senior Games in Syracuse, N.Y. These medals were the first of what is now a box full.

Medals Lisbeth has won over the years at the senior gamesThe following year, they again participated in the state games, and Lisbeth qualified for and attended the 1993 national games in Baton Rouge, La. The following year found them moving to Lacey to be near family and settling in at Panorama, a continuing care retirement community. “When we moved out here, there were no senior games in Washington,” Lisbeth says, and they had to compete in Nevada. Without the support of a statewide organization to handle the ceremony logistics for the Washington seniors attending the 1995 San Antonio games, the Washington athletes had to oversee the preparations themselves: Ron Muth organized the uniforms and hats, while Lisbeth had to borrow a state flag from a local Lions Club.

To qualify for the 1997 National Senior Games, they competed in Montana, and this time Dave qualified for nationals in the 1.5 and 5k race walks. A year later found them both in Tucson, Ariz., not only competing but also inquiring as to how to bring the senior games to Washington.

In July 1997, Lisbeth organized a meeting that had many fellow athletes in attendance, some of whom she met in Tucson. The group formally established the Washington State Senior Games (WSSG) corporation, and Lisbeth was elected the state coordinator. But creating the WSSG was just the start of the work. Lisbeth credits State Senator and friend Karen Fraser for contacting the Olympia YMCA in 1996 to organize a senior games in Thurston County (where there were more volunteers than athletes). The following year had a larger games, which included participants from the surrounding counties, and finally the first official Washington State Senior Games in 1998.

WSSG - Lisbeth Shot PutLisbeth says she loved being the first state coordinator for the Washington State Senior Games because of the administrative and computer work involved. Her skills were tested during the WSSG’s early years. From 1997 to 1999, Lisbeth worked to develop the administrative infrastructure of the WSSC: writing the bylaws, tracking the qualifying athletes (which required multiple reports and many phone calls to the national office) and assisting in starting local senior games across the state. In 1998, 500 athletes competed in the first statewide Washington State Senior Games, and 300 qualified for nationals in Orlando, Fla.

Washington isn’t the only state which benefited from Lisbeth’s support of senior games. She also helped start the senior games in Hawaii; she and Dave earned the honor of carrying the torch at the first games’ opening ceremony.

Lisbeth left the administrative role of the senior games in 1999—“I had been doing so much,” she says—and she returned to just competing and enjoying herself. She has competed nearly every year, and it has become a family affair with her daughter also joining in. “It’s good for us to be active,” Lisbeth says.

The events she competes in now are shot put and road races, and she likes the latter event better than race walking because there are “no rules.” When competing in the race walk in Baton Rouge in 1993, Lisbeth says she, along with 300 others, were disqualified because of a bent knee that the judge saw. After that, “I was always careful to not get disqualified.”

Lisbeth and the Olympic Torch at PanoramaLisbeth’s active spirit inspired Dave to nominate her to carry the Olympic torch when it traveled through Olympia before the 2002 Salt Lake City games. The torch is on display at Panorama in its Fitness Center. While Panorama has the walking paths that Lisbeth needs to practice for her road race, it doesn’t have a shot put area, so she visits St. Martin’s University to practice. Panorama has also been a long-time sponsor of the senior games, even hosting events in the past , and the company’s reason for supporting the games is simple—they support seniors who embrace being healthy and the organizations which encourage active retirement. “We believe the senior games is probably the best example of changing the stereotype [of aging],” says Howard Burton, Panorama’s marketing director.

And Lisbeth is doing just that. “I am, as a matter of fact, very healthy,” she boasts, “[I] had a blood test in April—everything is perfect.” At this year’s games, being 86 meant she was the oldest female shot put participant. While looking around at all the people who were spending the day competing alongside her, Lisbeth observed, “And to think we helped start this for all these people here.”

Andrea Watts is content writer for SeniorHomes.com. In addition to covering senior living, she also writes on sustainable forestry and agriculture issues. Her writings have appeared in publications which include TimberWest, The Forestry Source, EARTH  and Acres U.S.A.

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