Westerville News & Public Opinion

Athletes pumped for return of Senior Games June 7

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For many seniors, staying active as they age can be a battle.

It can be difficult to find activities that help them stay fit, others who will accompany them or simply a reason for competition.

But in its second year after returning from a five-year hiatus, the Central Ohio Senior Games aims to alleviate all of those concerns, and hopes to provide an Olympic-like setting for Columbus's seniors to hone their athletic skills.

Mary Robinson of Gahanna, who has been competing in regional, state and national competitions for nearly 20 years, says the games are the best way to indulge her competitive nature while making some friends along the way.

"I thrive on competition," Robinson said. "And it's just good to see everyone. You meet new people, you make friends, and it keeps me in good shape. I have to train, and you have to be in good shape to compete. And I try to compete at a high level."

And while plenty of athletes like Robinson are very much in the competition to win, not every event is cutthroat.

The Westerville Parks and Recreation Department is the official host of the 2014 Senior Games, and many events will be held at the Westerville Community Center, 350 N. Cleveland Ave. But others will be scattered at venues across the region.

The games boast 15 different competitions, including a variety of track and field events. Some, like billiards or Wii Bowling, offer a more relaxed environment, while events like swimming or tennis can get heated.

Even seniors who aren't interested in athletics can compete. Organizers have added the unique "Silver Arts Competition," where participants can showcase their artistic skills in events ranging from music to dancing or even knitting. The variety, coordinator Chris Shirring said, is the key to the event's inclusive nature and the community it builds.

"It allows us to kind of reach out to all different avenues of someone who's 50 or older; they can still go for the gold," Shirring said. "It's about building camaraderie. You can win gold, silver or bronze, but a lot of times the social aspect kind of reigns over it."

A $25 entry fee covers participation in all events but golf and disc golf, which require an added greens fee. Participants get a Senior Games T-shirt and entry into the opening ceremonies and barbecue event to kick off the three-week competition.

Despite their friendly nature, the games can be an important athletic outlet for seniors like the 72-year-old Robinson, who played sports and ran track all through high school and college, and was even good enough to qualify for Olympic trials in 1964. When she got older, Robinson found it harder to stay involved in sports, until she found the Senior Games.

"I got a little sedentary and gained a few pounds," she said. "And I thought, 'OK, this has to go.' So I went back to what I knew best."

Now, Robinson is a regular in games throughout the country, and brought home two gold and two silver medals from last year's state competition in Cleveland.

Like many athletes, Robinson competes in the track and field events, which offer the same 100-meter dash or shot put events that can be found in a college competition. The track events, Shirring said, are easily the most popular of the games.

"There's just so much going on in track and field that it becomes a really big event," he said, noting that many of the competitors ran track when they were younger.

Even at 72, Robinson is significantly younger than some in the 50-and-older competition, and is inspired by watching athletes who are nearing 100 years old.

"What's interesting is that there are some people in their 90s and 100s still competing," she said. "You see them out there and it's like, 'Oh my God.'"

Does Robinson see herself competing in 20 years? She's not quite sure.

"I don't know what's going to happen next week," she laughed. "I'd like to, though."

Registration for this year's Central Ohio Senior Games is open to anyone 50 and older through May 30, and events take place June 7-28. Details and registration information can be found at westerville.org/seniorgames and senior centers across Central Ohio.

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