Aging with grace and athleticism

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, is a Certified Health Coach and a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center.

By Cathleen Kronemer

This past weekend, I witnessed one of the most popular and highly anticipated events of the year, as the St. Louis Senior Olympics kicked into high gear at the JCC.  Each May I am amazed at the level of dedication these athletes display, the true sportsmanship and camaraderie they exemplify, as these individuals gather from around the Midwest to try their hand at winning medals for their athletic ability…all while redefining the public opinion of “growing older”.

The St. Louis Senior Olympics is based upon the premise of promoting the health and wellness of adults who are 50 years of age and older. By offering a friendly yet competitive venue for participation in a variety of sports on all different ability levels, St. Louis is proud to be the home of one of the most prestigious Senior Games in the country. With the coordinated efforts of staff and more than 200 volunteers, approximately 1,000 athletes are able to participate in 85 events over Memorial Day Weekend each year.

Ranging from Basketball Free-Throws to Shuffleboard to Weight-Lifting, Swimming to Sprinting to Pickleball, one can witness the extreme focus in the faces of the athletes, and the overwhelming cheers from friends and family members who have gathered to witness their loved ones set personal records and take home one or more medals.  In a world where societal pressure creates ridiculously high standards of beauty that seem only to apply to the young and perfectly-shaped physiques, it is most refreshing to observe the collection of adults who have used age to their advantage in terms of experience, and have come together to not only have a great time, but to learn from one another and to congratulate their teammates on jobs well done.

While my own athletic pursuits were limited to the aesthetics of competitive bodybuilding, I always find myself in awe of these Senior Olympians, many of whom began their fitness pursuits later in life, as did I.  While I competed from the age of 44 up through the age of 50, some of the individuals I watch are close to twice the age I was when I first went on stage….and they show no inclination of stopping any time soon.  Why should they?  Clearly they are remaining healthy as they train year-round, placing respectful yet challenging demands upon their bodies while having as much fun as possible. After all, isn’t that what “growing older gracefully” and “enjoying the Golden Years” is all about?

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Yes, a bit of good luck as well as good genetics definitely come into play for these folks. Yet looking at them, watching their joy as they pursue their sport and hope for a medal, and especially in speaking with them, one gets the sense that theirs is a life lived fully. Hard-working, fun-loving, and blessed with the spirit of competition displayed with the highest regard for their fellow athletes, these individuals exemplify the true spirit of an Olympian.  They deserve every bit of the awe we shower on our USA Teams as they march into some international arena and prepare for a once-every-four-years opportunity.  Fortunately for us here in St. Louis, we can witness this magical moment every single Memorial Day weekend, right here in our own backyard.

Whatever we can learn from watching and interacting with these members of our community, we will most assuredly come away from the experience feeling inspired….and may even find ourselves erasing any preconceived notion on what it means to “age” in today’s society!