Senior Olympics is nothing new for local athlete

YEARS OF WINNING • Erich Dahl, 87, of Creve Coeur, will compete in track and swimming events during the Senior Olympics being hosted by the Jewish Community Center from May 25 through May 28. Dahl is pictured in a back room of his apartment, with a plethora of medals, press clippings, and mementos from previous competitions. Photo: Mike Sherwin

BY PAUL HACKBARTH, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

When Erich Dahl is competing in a race, only one thing is going through his head: “Run! Run faster, faster! How can I move faster?”

Dahl, 87, and member of Congregation Shaare Emeth, will be running again this year during the St. Louis Senior Olympics at the Jewish Community Center this Memorial Day weekend. At his age, he has one thing on his mind: the competition.

“I listen to footsteps and if they’re close to me, then I say, ‘My God, that guy is catching up with me.’ Or if I have a guy in front of me, I see if I can catch up with him. That’s all you can think about. You don’t really have time [for other thoughts],” he said.

Dahl will be competing with more than 1,000 other senior athletes in the local Senior Olympics May 25-28.

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“Some people think we’re nuts, there’s no question about it. Some people think we run around like a nut out there,” Dahl said of the athletes that compete.

Dahl has been involved in Senior Olympics across the nation since the games first started. Dahl joined the games while he was living in Cleveland, Ohio in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In his back room, with its walls covered in ribbons, medals and trophies, he still has his first- and second-place ribbons from his first race the Senior Olympics.

“I was active in sports. I was running a lot of street races, 10Ks and 5Ks,” he said. While at a bank in Cleveland, Dahl noticed leaflets posting about joining the Senior Olympics. “I ran a 400-yard race and I think I got the gold, then I was hooked,” he said.

Dahl has participated in the Senior Games in California, Florida, Michigan and Colorado. Dahl, who was retired at the time, competed in the races as a routine every year.

However, recently, certain changes in his family and health caused him to stop competing in other states. His 55-year long marriage to his wife Hilda ended when she died, so Dahl gave up the long trips to other competitions, but he did not give up on the St. Louis games.

Dahl set a record for the men’s group age 85-90 in the 200-yard breaststroke competition in 2005, completing the race in 6:30:84. He has also broken several records in running.

“Some time or another, I had some, but I’m sure they’re all broken by now,” he said.

Dahl usually competes in about 16 different running and swimming events, but last “That kind of knocked me for a loop, so I cut it down to eight events this year, five running and three swimming. That’s all I can do this year, but I used to do twice as many,” he said.

Dahl said he competes for the simple reason that he likes to compete. “But also, what’s really more important at my age, it motivates to keep myself in shape all year,” he said. “When you get older, there’s really nothing more important than your mental and physical health. All the other things are great, but there comes a time when I’m thankful that I have been able to be as in good of shape as I am.”

As far as training goes, Dahl works out seven days a week at the JCC.

“I’m at the ‘J’ every morning about 7:30 [a.m.] and I get home about 10 o’clock,” he said. “I try to alter it. Today, I did my calisthenics and that takes about 50 minutes. Then, I work out with hand weights for about 20 minutes and the time I have left, I walk, not speedwalking, but pretty fast. Then tomorrow, I’ll run my sprints…then I go swimming.”

Dahl said he coordinates his training so as not to use the same muscles everyday.

“Since I have nothing better to do, I do it seven days a week,” he said. “I think everybody should exercise. Some people take better care of their cars then they do their bodies,” he said.

In order for people to keep exercising, Dahl said they have to find an activity they like to do and they are able to do.

For Dahl personally, competing helped him not only stay physically active but helped him to get over the death of his wife.

“While you’re running, you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself,” he said.

While Dahl said he does train with a few friends, “they get to be fewer and fewer as you get older,” he said.

But meeting new people and the camaraderie of the contestants are reasons he competes.

“You go out there, you compete and when the race is over, you congratulate the guy that beat you or they congratulate them. There are no hard feelings ever,” he said.

Dahl was chosen to carry the torch in the St. Louis Senior Olympics in 1996 and again in 2004. Dahl has received the St. Louis Senior Olympics Doc Eberhardt Award and the Missouri State Senior Games Distinguished Service Award. He was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in December 2005.