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 organizations.
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 years.
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 people."
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 Games.
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.