The Washington State Senior Games are underway again in South Sound. The 22 events, which shift into highest gear Saturday and Sunday, offer a timely reminder to everyone: Get up, stand up — and please get off that couch!
Indeed, that’s the point of the games. To get people up and moving, and to promote fitness year-round as an important contributor to wellness.
The games — geared for those age 50 and up — began locally in 1996. Organizer and board President Jack Kiley expects 1,500 to 2,000 participants will enter events. He predicts about 5,000 people overall will attend either as athletes or spectators. Many rent hotel rooms and eat in restaurants, contributing cash to the local economy.
But the real message is getting fitter.
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Most participants are in their 60s but ages range from 50 on up to 98-year-old George Rowswell, an inspirational former Thurston County track-and-field coach who throws the discus from a wheelchair. One year a golfer was more than 100 years of age.
The Senior Games’ opening ceremony is Saturday at 8 a.m. at the Tumwater High School stadium. Some events such as softball have been underway for a couple of weekends; softball attracts about 500 participants, the largest share of any sport. Once again, Saturday’s track-and-field events are at the stadium, part of what has become a yearly ritual.
A Saturday night social event at 5 p.m. in The Olympia Center features a talk by mountain climber Jim Whittaker, the first American to climb Mount Everest, and marathoner Bill Iffrig of Lake Stevens, a marathon runner who survived the Boston Marathon bombing two years ago. He was knocked off his feet by the blast, but got back up and finished the race. Admission is $15 including dinner.
Iffrig, whose picture ran on the front of Sports Illustrated after the bombing, is “an 80-year-old elite marathon runner. He is in the 10-kilometer run, which should be a walk in the park for him,” Kiley said.
Besides track-and-field, the 22 events include swimming, sprints of 50 to 200 meters, a 10K run, shot put, discus, bowling, marksmanship and — we wish we were kidding — shuffleboard and pickle ball.
There would be hardheads going at it in rugby, too, but Kiley couldn’t find enough players to form competitive teams.
Competition can be intense and emotionally moving to watch, and adults sometimes experience a role-reversal. As parents and grandparents, they’ve cheered on their kids for many years, but now it’s their kids or grandkids cheering for them.
Kiley deserves a gold medal for taking on the complex and demanding task of shepherding the games, which involve an enormous amount of logistics, planning, promotion, and patience. He leads a team of 250 volunteers from our community and around the state.
Some are athletes such as Eddie Ortiz, a retired state worker from Olympia, who suffered a hip injury while running in last year’s games and won't be adding to his sizable collection of medals from past years.
The bum hip means Ortiz won’t be throwing the shot put either, but he will do chores with volunteers.
“I’ll be out there cheering them on,” Ortiz said.
It's good if we all cheer. But it's better if we can also get up and walk or run.