By David J. Lewellen
Recovering from breast cancer and battling depression more than two decades ago, Lois Gilmore, of Janesville, realized she had to do something.
She began going for walks. The walks got faster and became runs, and before long she was entering races and winning. Now 83, she’s a competitor with medals and ribbons from local, state and national events.
Hundreds of competitors
Gilmore and hundreds of other athletes will participate this summer in Wisconsin’s Senior Olympics, encompassing about two dozen sports for people 50 and older.
Some participants seek medals or a slot in the biennial National Senior Games, but everyone celebrates the physical activity and companionship.
As more people live longer and healthier lives, physical fitness “fits hand in glove with something like Senior Olympics,” said Sam Wilson, AARP Wisconsin state director. “We see the Senior Olympics as an extension of AARP’s Life Reimagined efforts, whereby people over 50 are rediscovering themselves, exploring new and challenging opportunities, and asking themselves, ‘What’s next in my life?’ ”
For Gilmore, running is also a family affair. Her son, Bill, 54, has been eligible for the Senior Olympics for four years, and her husband, Wayne, 80, said he took up running “after these guys started going to runs and doing so well.”
All three Gilmores participated in the 2013 National Senior Games in Cleveland. Lois set an age-group record in the 5K run; Bill placed second in the triathlon.
“The older I get, the easier it’s been” to win, Lois said. “When I started out at 60, there was a lot of tough competition. I was always in the top three, but I didn’t want to be in the top three. I wanted to be first.”
For participants like Lois, competition fuels their drive; for others, it’s the camaraderie. Senior Olympics board member Dave Hoffman, 79, of Milwaukee, recalls watching the powerlifting competitors last year and reveling in “the delight you could see on their faces, the camaraderie and social bonding.”
Senior Olympics events run the gamut from archery to volleyball. Many are traditional sports, but there’s also pickleball (akin to tennis but slower) and lawn bowling.
Most events are divided into five-year age groups. The games are held at various venues in the Milwaukee area, and competitors come from all parts of the state.
Anyone who turns 50 by Dec. 31 can enter the Wisconsin Senior Olympics. Out-of-state residents can compete but can’t take away a spot that would qualify a Wisconsin resident for the National Senior Games. There is a nominal fee for participants.
Winners move up
Top finishers in even-numbered years are eligible for the National Senior Games, held in odd-numbered years. The 2015 games will be in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area.
People who train for an athletic event may not get a medal, “but you’ll be better than you used to be,” said John White, president of Wisconsin Senior Olympics.
The swimming events offer a novice category for people who are interested in getting back into the pool but may feel intimidated by going against Masters swimmers.
Competition, Hoffman said, need not be hostile. “You always perform better when you’re striving with someone else.”
Competition also helps motivate Agnes Reinhard, of West Allis, to keep training, although she has “boxes full” of medals. Reinhard competes in the 85-89 age group. She won a silver medal in discus and several bronzes in track events at the 2013 national games.
“I wanted a medal, but I didn’t care what color,” she said. “I was just competing for the fun of it.”
Visit wiseniorolympics.com or call 262-424-2149 for more information.
David J. Lewellen is a writer living in Glendale, Wis.