If BoomerCafé is for baby boomers with active lifestyles, this story is a perfect fit. It’s by Rosanne Ullman, a freelance writer and writing coach from the Chicago area, and she was never much of an athlete…. til now!
“Of all people!”, my childhood friend exclaimed six years ago when I informed her that I’d started competing in track and field at the Senior Games, also referred to as the Senior Olympics.
I didn’t take offense. After all, she was still picturing that eight-year-old who would rank around last in the 50-yard-dash in gym class. I was now a 60-year-old Senior Olympian who was, um, ranking among last in the 1500-meter races I was entering. I saw her point.
But there I was anyway this past June at age 66, one of more than 13,000 hopeful athletes aged 50 to 104(!), competing in the 2019 National Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I can’t say I’ve improved in those six years— in fact, mitral valve repair at age 61 significantly compromised my 1500-meter time— but I’ve added events, and I get to call myself an athlete for the first time in my life.
My husband, Keevan Morgan, is the one who got me into this. Whereas I started running on a treadmill at age 40, Keevan has a lifelong history of sports competition. On his high school track team he did the long jump and the high jump, and for all of his adult life he pitched fast-pitch softball. When the local fast-pitch league folded, he discovered Senior Games, an organization that holds competitions in every state in all sorts of sports and games, separated into five-year age categories beginning at 50. From tennis, swimming, and bowling, from team sports to games like shuffleboard and horseshoes, every interest is covered. And as I learned, often the competition at the state level is light enough for even someone at my humble skill level to medal and qualify for Nationals.
“All abilities compete,” says Dana Childs, a producer with ProView Networks and the play-by-play announcer for track and field at Nationals. “Some competitors just walk around the 1500-meter running race as people cheer them on! I think they’re the most inspiring— they’re not in it for gold medals but just out there trying to live an active lifestyle. At the other end are the medalists. Winners want to win; we see that the competitiveness never goes away. These athletes blow the stereotype of being ‘too old to compete’ out of the water.”
I was an eyewitness to that very spirit at the previous Nationals event in 2017, when celebrated senior athlete Julia Hawkins, then 101 and lacking direct contemporaries, beat all the 95- to 99-year-olds in a sprint. Everyone watching ran up to congratulate her. “You won, Julia!” But all Julia wanted to know was, “What was my time?” That’s a true champ! She proved it again at age 103 when she set records in Albuquerque.
Keevan and I didn’t set records, but he was happy placing 10th, 14th, and 18th, respectively, in the long jump, javelin throw, and 400-meter race. I was just pleased that I didn’t come in last in any of my three races, although I can’t say the same for my javelin event. But as we like to say at Senior Games, I beat all the people sitting at home on the couch.
If you enjoy sports, come join us! You have all of 2020 to qualify in the state events for the 2021 Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Rosanne is the author of the children’s picture book “The Case of the Disappearing Kisses.”