The Senior Olympics that is.
It used to be called the Senior Olympics. Now it’s known as the National Senior Games. If this conjures up an image of tottering geezers sedately playing shuffleboard for plastic trophies think again.
The National Senior Games is an Olympic-style event with competition in seventeen individual sports, three non-ambulatory sports and six team sports. Yes, shuffleboard is included along with more vigorous pursuits such as swimming, bicycling, track and field, basketball, volleyball, pickleball and soccer. Participants must be at least fifty years old and meet some pretty stiff qualifying standards. These are not tottering old geezers; these are serious athletes.
For several years I have possessed an itch to compete in the Senior Games. I began running in 1977 and have raced on the track, roads and trails in distances up to thirty-five miles. So naturally, my competitive instincts lead me to such an event. The Senior Games include 5K and 10K road races and I want to run both. The problem though is that I simply am not fast enough to qualify.
USA Track & Field is a separate organization that sponsors competitions for Masters runners and field athletes. Masters designation starts at the age of thirty-five and continues in five year age groups all the way to over one hundred. USATF has state and national championship meets in track and field, cross country and road races. But the difference in USATF and the Senior Games is the absence of qualifying standards for USATF. I have competed in track and field and cross-country state championships by simply being a USATF member and showing up on race day. No such luck with the Senior Games.
To compete in the National Senior Games, an athlete first has to qualify in state games by meeting predetermined qualifying standards. Those standards would require me to run faster at my current age than I have run in over fifteen years. But this year I had a stroke of luck. Due to the upheaval brought on by COVID, the standard for qualifying in my target races has been changed to simply finishing the state qualifiers.
How long it takes to run the qualifying race is immaterial. Simply finish and I will be eligible to enter the next National Senior Games which are scheduled for May 2022 in Ft Lauderdale, Florida.
I guess it is fair to ask if this is a cheap way of getting into the National Games. After all, I am not being held to the same high standards as in years past. I will not argue the point. I will simply play by the rules that exist this year and accept it if they change for the 2023 games.
My state qualifying competitions are scheduled for June 29 and July 1 of this year. Simply finishing the 5K and 10K races will be a triumph for me. The distances are no big deal. I’ve run much farther on many occasions. But those races will mark my reentry into the ranks of athlete after a year plus battle to recover from a severely pinched nerve in my lower back. I may very well finish both of these races in last place but that is ok. I still have almost a year to train for the National Games next year in Florida.
Why does this mean so much to me? Let’s go back to that image of the tottering geezers playing shuffleboard. I don’t mind being called a geezer. I am what I am. When I lived in Colorado, a local runner in his sixties raced in a shirt that, on the back, read “You’ve just been geezered”. Typically, he finished in the top twenty percent or so of every race and a lot of people were “geezered” by this guy with his swift pace and long flowing grey hair.
I will never be as fast as that particular runner but I do want to continue to feel like an athlete no matter what age I attain. Running is one of those sports that we can pursue no matter how old we get. We won’t run as fast as we used to, but we can run just as hard and continue to compete against those in the same age group as ourselves. I’m sure a similar mindset exists among the swimmers, the pickleball players and the three-person basketball teams in the women’s 80–85 age group.
Call me a geezer if you want. A senior citizen, an old codger, gramps or Methuselah. I don’t care, because no matter my age, I’m still an athlete!