The REAL OLYMPICS will be in London this summer in just a few weeks. Those competitions between the best of the best athletes inspire many of us to do our best in our own athletic endeavors.
A few years ago, very few, I reached the age which allowed me to participate in the Senior Olympics. I have been very impressed by the national and state organizations which put on these senior games. I have met some great folks as I participated in swimming competitions.
The way it works is that the top three finishers in each event in state competitions qualify for the National Senior Games, which are held every other year. As you would expect, many of the senior athletes are former college athletes and some even former Olympians. When I swam at Stanford for the national games, it was intimidating when they announced, “In lane three, former Olympic medalist, Gary Hall.” I will break the suspense right now and tell you that this is not a story about how I beat him. I did not beat him. We were not even in the same heat.
Another fellow I did not beat was a former NCAA breaststroke champion, who was only one second off his record time. I was warming up when I heard him and another guy in my event talking. They were both from Big Ten schools.
I also watched some of the other sports. I saw old pole vaulters who could still go what looked high to me. I don’t know how many feet high, but I watched an official get on a stepladder to raise the bar with a tool that must have put the bar over ten feet high. Three athletes went over the bar at that height. Maybe it was twelve feet. Think of the acceleration, upper body strength and coordination required. Very impressive!
Another man who impressed me was someone who did not qualify for the national championships. He finished all his swimming events at the state games in last place. He did not dive in off the starting block. He had to be lowered into the pool from a wheel chair. He started in the water, just pushing off the pool wall. He was very slow but kept going until he finished. He needed help getting out of the pool and into his chair. I am embarrassed to confess that I was a little irritated at having to wait for him to finish, which delayed the next event of the meet. Didn’t he know that he didn’t have a chance to qualify for the national games?
After two days of state competition, there was an award banquet. The slow swimmer was one of the speakers. He told his story that he was a wounded veteran and was competing in the Senior Olympics to try to get prepared for other games especially for disabled veterans. He also told us how these athletic competitions changed his life, even saved his life. He described his health problems, including that in the past he had weighed over 500 pounds. He had some medical emergency a few years ago. He said he did not fit into the MRI machine. He nearly died.
As part of his recovery he started swimming. He started shooting basketballs from his chair. He said, “I’m not very good, but I like to do these sports. The exercise has helped me lose 270 pounds.” He got a standing ovation. He was a winner after all.
Bless his heart! And bless the many volunteers who put on these events for us old folks.
If you are over 50 years of age, check out the Senior Olympics. You might have some fun.