In our continuing coverage of the senior games this July, I attended the Washington State Senior Games on July 26 and witnessed firsthand the camaraderie and age-defining seniors about whom I had heard so much.
With the Washington State Senior Game (WSSG) events scheduled over multiple weekends, weekdays and venues during July, I decided to attend the track and field and basketball events scheduled at Tumwater High School on Saturday, July 26. The participants, spectators and volunteers couldn’t have asked for a better day because the sun was already out for the 8 a.m. start and it promised to be warm all day.
Having competed in track and field during high school, I fell into the rhythm of clearing the track between races, remembering the names of each event and waiting for the starting gun to signal the start of the race. But this time, the noticeable difference was the age of the competitors: The high school volunteers and I were the younger people in the crowd. Just as Jack Kiley said in an earlier article, the average age of the participants was in their 60s. And while observing the events and the participants, I found it difficult to avoid reflecting about the larger themes the WSSG represented.
On display around me was aging. It was not Hollywood aging with its airbrushing, makeup or plastic surgery, but honest aging—the wrinkled and sagging skin on the arms, legs and face that comes from simply living life and the accompanying gray or white hair, or lack thereof. That’s not to say the participants hadn’t had surgeries. At the 70-year-old bracket of 3-on-3 basketball, I chatted with two wives while their husbands competed. Their team, Triple Threat, was down a few players because of knee surgeries, but they would be back on the court when cleared by their doctors.
With basketball team names such as Team Ibuprofen, Total Package or Gray Wolves, the men acknowledged their age while defining it. A player on another team was in his early 80s, and with few 80-year-olds playing, he has to play with the 70-year-olds. As Triple Threat outscored Gray Wolves during their 45 minutes of playtime, I also watched the three high school boys shooting hoops on the other side of the court. These young men may have moved faster and made the baskets more often, but would they be capable of shooting hoops in 60 years? I realized that while there is something to be said about the physical prowess of youth offers, anyone can shoot baskets when they are teenagers, 30-year-olds or even 40-year-olds; it is the physical prowess of seniors in their 70s and 80s who get out of the chair and continue playing which is more inspirational.
Triple Threat was composed of men are from around the country: Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and California; and they regularly travel to attend games such as the WSSG. The reason for the many states represented in one team is because of the difficulty in recruiting players over 70, one of the wives explained. “Because you have a love of the game,” is how another wife described why their husbands play. One of the players didn’t start playing with the team until five years ago, when he learned of the senior games. And he just loves playing; even after having knee surgery, he is still out on the court.
The scorekeeper at the discus event remarked that having turned 50 meant this was the first year she could compete and volunteer for the games. She said that seeing the seniors compete made her realize that aging may not be so bad, and if they could do it, she could. I certainly came away with that resolve. The oldest participant was a 97-year-old who competed in the shot put and discus, and in the 200-meter dash, there was a heat for 70- to 85-year-olds. 86-year-old Lisbeth Naber, who will be featured in an upcoming article, was the oldest female shot putter.
Though it was mainly participants who filled the stands and milled about on the field, there were a few family members. Two grandkids had signs saying “Go Gramps” and “Sprint for Honor” in support of their grandpa, who ran the 100-meter dash. One of the kids even had “Go” and “Gramps” written on either arm, and his grandma had blue pompoms that she waved as he ran past. He didn’t win, but that really isn’t the point of the senior games. Just as Marc T. Riley commented in an earlier article—it is about being active.
“[The Washington State Senior Games] is an effort to help older people to have goals,” Howard Burton says about why Panorama sponsors the games each year. This held true today. With few outside spectators and the senior games not widely known, the glory the participants receive is only within a small circle. Perhaps that is what makes the experience authentic: The participants have nothing to prove but to themselves.
After the 200-meter dash, I overheard a runner comment, “That was a personal best for me. Never been under 30 before.” One runner even broke a previous state record that he had set.
And just as the 50-year-old volunteer is encouraged about aging, so am I. As a writer for SeniorHomes.com, I unfortunately no longer have the ignorant bliss of the physical challenges I will face as I age, though I am getting a preview because I have to favor my knee while running. But having seen what 80- and 90-year-olds can do—including jogging 800 meters without stopping— I feel confident that I can accept aging and not bemoan the loss of youth or my physical ability. And I have the confidence to take on physical challenges that seem daunting—if a 90-year-old can run a marathon, so can I! And I too look forward to the day I can compete in the Washington State Senior Games.
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.