Can't-miss sports thru June 30
Hardbodies galore: National Senior Games prove you're never too old to compete
If you can’t make it to the London Olympics next July, don’t worry. You can see some of the world’s best athletes pitted against each other in your own backyard. All of the true “blood, sweat and tears” moments of exquisite athleticism will be on display for the next two weeks at the Summer National Senior Games in Houston.
Beginning this week, the city will be inundated with nearly 9,000 athletes partaking in true Olympic-level competition. The only difference is the competitors are a bit older. To be specific, all are over 50 years old and the oldest competitor is 101. Former President George H.W. Bush (age 87) and Barbara Bush (86) serve as honorary co-chairs.
A competition for senior athletes might seem mundane, but these competitors have incredible athletic abilities. The National Senior Games, held ever two years since 1987, is the largest multi-sport event for athletes 50 and older in the world, with more than 800 competitions in 18 medal sports and 2 demonstration sports at 13 different venues around Houston.
The George R. Brown Convention Center will serve as the primary site for the Games. Competition spreads from Katy and Fulshear to Reliant Park.
While Houstonians are used to the summer heat and humidity, many of these athletes come from cooler climates. In preparation, the George R. Brown has received a complete Senior Games makeover. To beat the heat, 145,000 square feet of sport flooring were laid throughout the building. The GRB now houses 16 tennis courts to be the largest indoor tennis tournament in the world, along with venues for volleyball, basketball, badminton, shuffleboard, table tennis and horseshoes. Hall C of the GRB also houses the AstraZeneca Athlete Village for the athletes to enjoy entertainment and relax.
Though the athletes are older than those headlining today’s top sporting events, they possess the talent and endurance needed for true Olympic-level competition. Many athletes competed at the collegiate level, hold masters national and world records and posses a true passion for competition. Each athlete proves that age and circumstance do not prevent an active and healthy lifestyle. Many have fought illnesses such as cancer, are veterans of war and have persevered through major injuries. Each is making the trip to Houston for a chance to compete and win a National Senior Games medal.
There is so much going on, it may be hard to figure out it all out. Here are some highlights:
Flame Arrival Ceremony — Thursday — various locations
Mayor Annise Parker has declared Thursday National Senior Games Day. After an eight-day journey to historic cities throughout Texas, the Reliant Energy Torch Relay will return to Houston. The torch will travel around the reflecting pool at Hermann Plaza near City Hall at 10:30 a.m., take a lap around the bases at Minute Maid Park prior to the Astros game at 12:30 p.m., and light the 2011 Summer National Senior Games Cauldron in Discovery Green to officially kick off the Games around 8:30 p.m. Grammy Award winning singer Gloria Gaynor will perform during the Flame Arrival Ceremony, which begins around 8 p.m. (Big guess on what she'll sing? "I Will Survive," of course.)
Similar to the traditional opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games, the National Senior Games hosts a Celebration of Athletes. This year’s celebration will take place at 7 p.m. June 21 at the Toyota Center. The University of Houston symphony will play while athletes make a lap around the Toyota Center floor. Performances will also include the pop-funk style band, Fried Ice Cream. The event is free to the public.
Darrell Green’s Long Live the Challenge Walk — June 25 — Reliant Park
Pro football Hall of Famer and seven-time All-Pro defensive back Darrell Green will lead a 5K walk on June 25 at 7:30 a.m. at Reliant Park. The walk, free and open to all ages, is a result of a partnership among the National Senior Games Association, the Houston Local Organizing Committee for the 2011 National Senior Games presented by Humana, and Green’s WalkFitHealth Nation program.
Watch competitors in action
You have the opportunity to watch Olympic-level competition in a wide range of sports, from archery to volleyball for free. Among the most intriguing:
Bowling — Friday-June 22 — Palace Lanes
The bowling competition features one of the Games’ oldest male athletes and the oldest female athlete. Harry Pepper, 100, has competed in bowling for 62 years. (He will also take part in the caldron at Discovery Green Thursday night.) Verna Owen, 98, of Virginia, is the oldest female athlete in the Games. The bowling competitions start June 17 with men’s and women’s singles and end June 22 with mixed doubles.
Swimming — June 25-30 — University of Houston Campus Recreation & Wellness Natatorium
The field is packed with talented swimmers from across the country. Local athletes Graham Johnston, 79, and DeEtte Sauer, 70, are true champions. Johnston holds 85 World Masters Records. In 2005, he became the oldest man to swim from Spain to Morocco. Sauer began swimming at the age of 58, having never participated in sports in her life. Now she is a top competitor in women’s swimming, winning numerous national medals.
The most unique competitor in this year’s Games is Vivian Stancil, 63, of California. Stancil is blind. She listens to the sound of the water against the lane ropes and wall to know where she is in the pool during each race.
Track & Field — Friday-June 24 — Humble ISD's Turner Staidum
The oldest athlete competing in Houston is 101-year-old Trent Lane. Lane will be competing in discus, hammer throw, javelin and shot put. The Track & Field competition starts with ages 50-64 on June 17 and ends June 20. Lane will compete with athletes 65-100+ from June 21 to June 24.
Frankson is a Houston freelance writer and communications specialist for the Houston Local Organizing Committe for the 2011 Senior Games.