Local senior athlete places at nationals


When Irv Siegel, an 80-year old St. Louis senior athlete from B’nai El Congregation, gets into position to run a race, “that’s when the butterflies in my stomach start.”

Siegel overcame those butterflies last month at the National Senior Games in Louisville, Ky. as he placed fifth, fourth and fifth in the 100-meter dash, 400-meter dash, and 200-meter dash respectively.

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Siegel was one of nearly 370 athletes from Missouri to qualify for the Nationals this year, which were held June 22 through July 7. The National Senior Games are held every two years; this year’s games were held in Louisville.

Participants in this year’s Nationals qualified in 2006 at the state level by placing first, second or third in their respective competitions.

Anne Walker, director of St. Louis Senior Olympics, said senior athletes from the St. Louis area not only make it to the Nationals often, but also have broken several records.

For instance, Siegel holds the record for running the 400-meter race in his age range.

Qualifying for the National Games is nothing new for Siegel.

“I’ve been in Nationals before in the preliminary race to qualify for the finals,” he said. The top nine racers in the preliminaries compete in the finals at Nationals, Siegel added.

“I was pretty happy I made it,” he said.

Previous times qualifying for Nationals were cut short for Siegel because of injuries. During a competition in St. Louis, he suffered a stress fracture, and in Orlando, he pulled a hamstring. “And in Baton Rouge one year, I tripped on the preliminary,” he said.

Siegel said he believes more injuries occur in track and field athletes than any other event. By running six races in four days, he said, “It’s rough on the knees.”

Siegel started competing in the Senior Olympics at the age of 55 and has been running track for the past 26 years.

When he first started, he said, “I couldn’t believe that seniors would be playing a sport or would be running 100 meters, 50 meters, but I won both of them the second year.”

“It’s amazing what you can do with your body,” he said. “In January, I can barely make it around the track. In March, I can run around it and by April I can do a 400-meter six times.”

For training, Siegel said, “I run four days a week. I used to run for six days a week. I train to run the 200 and 400 meters, so everything else [including smaller races] falls into place.”

When Siegel began running, he said he didn’t train often. “After I was injured running the 50 [meter dash], I started training, but the training was a little more strenuous,” he said.

While Siegel had no plans of placing at the Nationals, he was able to do so with his mind focused on one thing: the finish line.

“Once the gun goes off, my mind’s a blank. I just look ahead to the finish line,” he said. “In larger races, I can see the other runners and I can use that as a gauge of how I’m doing.’

While he admitted he is sometimes nervous before running, he said, “One of the runners always says, ‘if you’re not apprehensive about it, you shouldn’t be in [the race].'”

Siegel said what he likes most about the competitions is meeting people with similar interests.

“We’ve had competitors compete for 15 years or more,” Walker said. “They like the camaraderie and they look forward to this time, but they are also competitive. In addition, a lot of the senior athletes are JCC members,” Walker said.

Walker said in addition to competing, Siegel volunteers in the Senior Olympics office throughout the year. “A lot of the athletes are dedicated to the games, but not a lot volunteer their time at the office,” she said.

Equally as talented as Siegel is on the track, he also paints. While Siegel has an estimated 150 medals won in the past 26 years, he also has several art show awards.

Next year’s local St. Louis Senior Olympics will be a qualifying year for the National Senior Games for 2009 in San Francisco. The St. Louis games will take place May 23-26, 2008.