When you see news about athletes, such as sprinter Allyson Felix, preparing for the London 2012 Summer Games, do you ever remind yourself about your childhood dream of competing for the Gold? Even the most competitive amateur athletes know that by the time we reach the ripe old age of 25, it is usually too late for us to pursue our Olympic dream. Or is it? If you, like nearly all Baby Boomers, have passed age 50, you actually have many years left to compete in the summer games -- the National Senior Games. The next summer games are not until Cleveland in 2013, but the 2011 Winter Senior Games started September 29 in Rochester, NY. In fact, for the Winter Senior Games, hockey goalies can be as young as 45 years old! The Winter Senior Games include only four sports, but the Summer Games, like their more well-known Olympic counterpart, are much larger with 18 sports. The 2011 Summer Games took place in Houston, Texas over 15 days in June.
More than 10,000 athletes have participated in each of the last two Summer Senior Games. Two young documentary filmmakers, Christopher Rufo and Keith Ochwat, created an inspiring film that follows participants in the National Senior Games of 2009 which took place on Stanford's Campus in Palo Alto, California. Age of Champions follows several stories leading up to and including the 2009 Games. The Tigerettes are a highly competitive 65+ female basketball team from Livingston, Louisiana led by a 72-year-old grandmother, Mavis Albin. Two Texan octogenarian track and field rivals, Adolph and Earl, do high jump and throw the hammerhead, shotput, and discus. The most moving profiles are of John and Bradford Tatum, two African-American brothers who, as boys, had to swim in the reflecting pool at the National Mall because Jim Crow laws prevented them from using their community pool. Also, there is the sweet story of Roger Gentilehomme a spritely tennis star who stands less than five feet tall. He was 100 when Age of Champions was filmed prior to the 2009 Games, but Gentilehomme died the same week that the film premiered at the Silver Docs film festival this past June.
What is fun, inspiring, and instructive about watching these competitive senior athletes' stories unfold on the screen is that they really like to win. In their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and even at 100, they find competition invigorating. They are fighters, with women accepting black eyes and separated shoulders typically found in basketball games. A few of the competitors battle cancer on screen while training for their sport. Bradford Tatum's swimming training is uninterrupted by the chemotherapy port in his chest and his treatment schedule. In addition to his caring family, the pursuit of Gold gives Tatum extra incentive to live, with a little help from the rivalry with his brother.
The competitors admit, that "it ain't like it used to be", but they nevertheless push their aging bodies to their competitive limit. The National Senior Games and the rousing film Age of Champions ask all of us to consider what motivates us. Can we turn a little friendly competition with our 50+ friends into an Olympic dream? Can we move beyond training at the gym, doing pilates, or following a personal trainer to try long jump, the butterfly, speedskating, or competitive weightlifting again? If a centenarian can compete in a tennis match, an 88-year-old can throw a javelin, and a 72-year-old grandmother can make a free throw and take an elbow to the face, then can't we? Whether we are working too much, facing an empty nest, semi-retired, or signing up for Social Security, we can turn our love of sport and competition into pursuing Gold. More than 2,000 medals were awarded in Houston in June, and 245 records were set, including 25 American records and 5 world records. Who will be the next breakout 50+ track star?