JCC gets set for Senior Olympics in May

BY PAUL HACKBARTH, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

More than 1,000 senior athletes are gearing up for the 28th Annual St. Louis Senior Olympics, which will be held May 25 – 28 at the Jewish Community Center and other local venues.

As of last weekend, St. Louis Senior Olympics Director Anne Walker said she had received more than 1,000 registration forms from contestants. She expects about 1,300 competitors total, the same amount that entered last year, before the registration deadline ends on Friday, May 18.

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The St. Louis Senior Olympics pits athletes ages 50 and over against each other in more than 80 different friendly competitions.

The Jewish Community Center will once again host the four-day event on Memorial Day weekend. The JCC is preparing its athletic facilities and its staff of volunteers to assist during the games.

This year’s contest will feature some new competitions for the seniors, including a baseball homerun derby.

“Last year, we had a softball homerun derby. About 60 people participated in that last year, so we wanted to do a baseball homerun derby this year, ” Walker said.

In addition, senior athletes can compete in a miniature golf contest that will take place at the Concord Lanes Min-Golf in South County.

Also new this year is the triple jump. “We’ve had a huge response to add the triple jump, ” Walker said. “They added it at nationals, and we usually try to keep our competitions the same as nationals. “

Walker added that this year, the Senior Olympics wanted to hold a new event called pickleball, which she explained was a combination between badminton and tennis. “It’s extremely popular in the South, ” she said. While not enough athletes signed up for the event, she said a demonstration of pickleball would be offered.

Other St. Louis Senior Olympic favorites will return this year, too.

“Bowling is real popular among the people here, and so is cycling, ” Walker said. The games will also feature golf at Bear Creek Golf Club, a dart throw at Blueberry Hill and a football throw at the Russell Athletics Club, formerly known as Rams Park.

“In the past, it’s always exciting for people to go out there because they might meet someone famous, ” Walker said.

While this year’s contestants will not compete in the National Senior Games in Louisville, Ky. this June and July, “those contestants from the year prior will go to the nationals this summer, ” she said. “Last year, those contestants went to the state games and then next was the qualifying games for the nationals.”

According to Walker, a large number of the competitors from the local St. Louis games reach nationals. “It turns out a lot of them go out there. We usually have about 25 to 30 people go to nationals each year, ” she said.

One of those competitors, who has qualified for nationals every year since 1987 except for two, is Glenda Crites, a 90-year old swimmer from Glen Carbon, Ill.

As she explains, Crites was no athlete when she was younger. At the age of 65, she developed an illness and her doctor told her to start swimming.

“I was not a swimmer,” she said. “At the age of 67, I swam and it was a lot of pain. I would swim to the halfway point in the pool and think I should turn around, but I had to keep going. After five years and antibiotics, I turned out to be a natural.”

During a phone interview with Crites, who was on her way to Poplar Bluff, Mo. for a competition last weekend, she said no one trained her how to swim. She learned on her own. She said one trainer at the YMCA, where she exercised, tried to teach her the flip turn, “but I couldn’t do it because of my motion sickness. Every time, I’d try it, I’d get sick,” she said.

Crites has over 700 medals from different senior competitions, but last year, she almost did not compete when she broke her foot and developed a blood clot. However, that did not stop her. When a trainer asked her how she would swim with a walker, she said, “I’ll just jump in and then he asked, ‘How will you get out?’ and I said, ‘It’s nationals. That’s their problem.'”

At the age of 90, this year marks Crites’ last year in the Senior Olympics. “So this is my last hurrah. This is the first year I really trained. I’m going for the gold,” she said.

While this is Crites’ last year, for Kenneth Russell and his wife, Valerie, both 55, are competing for the first time this year. Kenneth, a personal trainer, has competed in bench press competitions for seven year, but never in the St. Louis Senior Olympics.

Kenneth will be competing the bench press and arm curl competitions while Valerie will run the 100-meter race. Kenneth said he looks forward to the event and said the Senior Olympics was something that he and his wife could do together.

“I just like to see seniors at different ages compete together,” he said. “It’s a venue for people to compete and show that they can still run 100 yards at the age of 60.”

Kenneth, who had knee replacement surgery and overcame other injuries, said he and his wife still try to keep in shape, which is why they compete.

Whether it is winning a gold medal or keeping in shape, Walker said the contestants all have their reasons to compete in the senior games.

“Most of them are coming out in hopes of having fun. They come out here to see their friends, but it also keeps them healthy,” she said.

Most of the athletes in the Senior Olympics start exercising and competing in their 50s, 60s or 70s because of a health problems, she said. Some of their doctors encourage them to exercise by running or swimming. “Then, they realize they have an actual talent,” Walker said.

The Senior Olympics are changing the idea of what most people think of when people think of an athlete, Walker said.

“My idea of an athlete is a 20 year old guy who goes to the Olympics. These people, though, show you can still be an athlete at any age. You can be fit and health at any age.”

The St. Louis Senior Olympics is still looking for volunteers to help with the events. For more information to learn how to volunteer, call Anne Walker at (314) 442-3217.

For a schedule of events, go the Senior Olympics Web site at stlouisseniorolympics.org.