The first National Senior Olympic Games were held in 1987 with 2,500 competitors. Now, the Games have over 10,000 competitors each year.
The Senior Games offers a variety of sports from which to challenge yourself, whether you are an archer or a triathlete. The games are held every two years in different cities around the US. If you want to compete, you must be at least 50 years old and qualify in a state competition in the year prior to the national competition. You can qualify in your home state or a state that allows outside participants.
Some, like John, 80, of Florida, and Lynne, 60, of California, have never competed nationally before. Others, including Richard Davies, 64, of Tennessee, are prior medal winners in the international arena.
"When you participate in the Senior Games, you get a feeling from year to year that you really aren't getting older," says Davies, who brought home gold from the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. "Senior Games gives me an opportunity to compete again on a national level and maybe one of these days on an international level."
John began his athletic career in 1992 after watching seniors compete in an event near Orlando, Florida.
"I said, ‘I can run as good as those guys and probably beat them,'" John recalls. And he has, winning more than 140 medals, including 125 gold. "I work hard at this, and I'm dedicated to the running. I feel that I'm a senior athlete as opposed to a senior games participant."
John alternates workouts—running and sprinting one day;
lifting weights, rowing, and doing push-ups, sit-ups, leg-pulls, shot put, and long jumps the next. He participates in six to 10 track meets every year and feels his newfound fitness has improved his cardiovascular health.
After leaving amateur athletics and launching a successful career at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Davies stayed in shape and played tennis. When he retired and moved to the mountains, he learned about the Senior Games. A bout with prostate cancer motivated him to begin competing again.
"If I could keep some distance or times or improve upon them, that meant I wasn't going downhill but progressing," Davies says. He has surpassed his expectations, throwing the javelin farther than he has since college.
Like many older athletes, Davies competes in several events: basketball, tennis, badminton, and track and field. Although competition stays intense and winning medals is important, for most of the athletes, the games offer more than a chance to prove they are the best.
"There's an interesting camaraderie that I never experienced in college or international competition," says Davies.
If it were not for people like Davies, Lynne may never have become an international champion.
"One of the reasons I was able to go back in the pool after my first swim meet and do a second one a year later was that everybody was so positive," Lynne explains. Lynne has competed in the Senior Olympics and Masters Swimming.
Lynne's husband, Harry, fueled the family interest in the games when he began playing basketball.
"I hadn't even been in a pool for two-and-a-half years," she explains. "I started working out and swimming a half mile twice a week, and I got a couple of my friends doing it."
She now spends four or more hours a day, Sunday through Friday, in the gym and pool at Loma Linda University. The hard work has paid off, in medals and personal satisfaction. Her current times surpass those she had in high school. She holds a gold medal from a world Masters' event.
"I'm pleased with what has happened with my body," she says. "There's a thing called endorphins, and they work. It's a high you get from exercise, and it sticks with you."
Lynne says competing in the Senior Games has enriched her life in other ways. She and Harry have met several new friends who share their love of exercise and sports. Even when shoulder surgery temporarily forced Lynne from the pool, people she had met through swimming gave her a needed boost.
"I was surprised how many calls or messages I got from people I had met around the country and the world," Lynne says. "That recognition and acceptance is probably the strongest I have ever had in my life."