May 28, 2022 3 min read 5 Comments
Photo: This was a common look at The National Senior Games. Pure glee. Dr. Elmo Shropshire shows off his medals. (Photo by Pam Wendell).
By Ray Glier
No one buffs out the edges at the National Senior Games to make it something polished and slick to sell. There is no branding of athletes. There are no athlete look-alikes here, no one stamped out to fit a mold.
It is come as you are.
You are permitted to revel in 7th place finishes at these Games, tease your competitor, call each other “old fart”, and chuckle when a man walks around in a tee-shirt that says “Geezer Jock.”
What struck me was the athletes at the National Senior Games, every last one of them, mostly rolled with it, whatever it was.
Runners that weren’t just last in a race, but really, really far behind, kept digging. They were not embarrassed. They were thrilled. They got the loudest ovations from the crowd at the track. The guy that finished first usually slapped the back of the guy that finished last. “Way to go” was a familiar refrain.
Basketball players who let the ball slip through their fingers did not retreat into pity or rage. They went on to the next point.
It could be pretty serious, too. In women’s softball, a player-coach made sure the players in the field knew who was coming up in the other team’s order so they could be prepared for a slugger.
There was jawing at the refs, but no technical fouls handed out. At least none that I saw.
It is ok here to ask women how old they are. They got a jersey on, darn right, it is ok to ask. Them is the rules. Not that anyone is sneaking into a younger age bracket….well, maybe not. They do like to win.
Here is an inkling of the culture of the National Senior Games:
Barbara Warren of West Virginia was supposed to get on the medal stand for a gold. At that moment, her friends were lining up for a relay race and they wanted a video. Warren stayed and got the video. "I'll get the medal some other time," she said.
One of the best stories I heard in The Games was “the celebration” for the life of young Joe Schuler, 23.
His parents, Bob and Vickie, competed in The Games and dedicated their effort to his life.
Joe died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism on Feb. 27, 2022. This was one remarkable kid.
Vickie Shuler finished 7th in the 10K Cycling Trials. She was 6th in the 5K Cycling Trials in the 60-64 division.
Bob, a Notre Dame guy, was 6th in the 200 IM in the swimming events and 5th in the 400 IM and 11th in 100 IM, also in the 60-64 age bracket.
I usually like to get more of people’s stories and I hung around the pool after a rain delay to talk to the Schulers. And then, me, a hard-assed journalist who has talked to loved ones after tragic deaths, got in the car and left.
I just didn’t want to intrude on what they had going on for Joe.
This kid was special. He ran track in high school. He was teaching high school science in Michigan. He hiked the 700-mile New Mexico portion of the Continental Divide. Read that Joe obituary if you think today’s youth are all mesmerized by computer games and are self-indulgent.
Joe was ripped off. So were we.
The athletes could be rather salty.
A woman at the Tradewinds Park softball venue, the 65-69 age group, had competed in swimming a few days earlier. There was a delay, then a postponement of swimming events one day because of high chlorine levels in the pool. She got a little ticked off. Actually, she got a lot ticked off.
“A complete clusterf---,” she said to another woman, loud enough for a man standing 10 feet away to hear.
So, don’t get the impression these people are doddering and grandmas that put up with stuff. They are mostly patient, and don’t throw punches, but they are usually entered in events in multiple sports and schedules are important. They care.
There were no defensive responses to my hat and tee-shirt at The National Senior Games.
The words “Geezer Jock” were all over me.
Perhaps people were just being polite, but I didn’t get the Chris Rock treatment at the hand of Will Smith because I was offensive. People understood the slap back at ageism my brand provides.
Some of it has to do with me looking like the Games tribe, which is, after all, my tribe. I’m 65. When it is a graybeard rocking Geezer Jock shirts, the slight “Geezer” loses its edge and perceived abusiveness. The censors did not come after me.
We can still take a joke.
July 15, 2022
Another story of courage and determination was how my husband, Jeff Hege went on to finish two more games of bowling in mixed doubles, after rupturing his bicep in the middle of the first game. He and his partner, Jennifer Skinner, almost made the finals anyway. I’m glad they didn’t, because he absolutely would have bowled those 3 more games the next day with that ruptured bicep.
July 15, 2022
Thanks for covering the NSG.
July 15, 2022
Great work capturing the feel and spirit of the games in such a brief and readable piece. We’ll done!
July 15, 2022
Great article Ray- captures the event and the attitude of these amazing athletes. So many stories walking around!
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July 15, 2022
At age 50 and a few months I was probably one of the “youngest seniors” at the Games this year. On the day of my event numerous “older fellers” jokingly said “you need to be carded because you can’t be 50”. Made my day & my first Games experience memorable!