May 29, 2000 -- One sign of the growing presence of vigorous older people is
the National Senior Games Association, a not-for-profit entity that promotes
health and fitness and coordinates state Senior Games and Senior Olympics
The Senior Games movement itself is just barely a teenager -- 13 years old
-- but it has grown steadily from 2,500 participants in the 1987 national games
to 12,000 participants in 1999. When you include the state and local
competitions, each year about a quarter million athletes age 50 and over are
involved, and the Baby Boom generation is expected to swell the ranks in coming
Brenda Della Casa had been seeing her primary care physician for two years
and had brushed off her concerns about getting rushed care - until she had a
health scare she couldn’t ignore. She told her doctor she was experiencing
terrible back pain and stomachaches. Her doctor checked her, said she was fine,
and sent her on her way.
Five days later, Della Casa, an author and dating coach in Chicago, was
traveling and had pains so severe she could barely move. When she received a
Senior athletes cite the camaraderie and friendship as draws, says Cynthia
Vaughan, Games Coordinator for the California State Senior Games Championships.
"This becomes sort of their family," she says. "These are vibrant
One participant, Shirley Sluiter, has played tennis since she was 14 or 15.
Although she confesses that she can't cover the court quite as easily as she
once did, she still plays singles. Before getting out of bed each morning, she
does exercises for her arms and legs, and she walks at least 15 minutes a day.
In tennis, she placed fourth in the 75 to 79 age group at the 1999 National
Senior Games in Tucson, Ariz.
Don Stupfel, a swimmer who at 72 has participated in both the Senior Games
and the Pacific Coast Masters Association, says he enjoys "competition,
meeting with people, watching them excel, improve, and stay in shape." His
wife Gloria, also in her 70s, and brother Norman, 68, also swim in the Senior
Stupfel has been a competitive swimmer off and on all his life, and just a
few years ago worked underwater as a commercial abalone and sea urchin
fisherman. He says that swimming has helped him overcome severe back problems.
"I look forward to [advancing to] my next age group," says Stupfel,
"instead of worrying about getting older."
Writer David R. Dudley is based in Berkeley, Calif. His stories have
appeared in The New Physician and The San Jose Mercury News.