Athletes over 50 go for gold at Pasadena Senior Games
By Sara Cardine 05/31/2012
When Cynthia Rosedale was a girl, she used to accompany her grandmother on frequent trips to the Pasadena Senior Center.
“My grandmother helped start this organization back in the late ’50s,” Rosedale recalls. “It was sort of this funky building with walls that were pink and green. People sat around and did art projects.”
Back in the early ’60s, the center was a place for the blue-haired sect, those who by age 60 had resigned themselves to knitting circles, early bird specials and games of canasta. Today, the Pasadena Senior Center, fairly recently renovated and spilling over with an increasing number of programs and activities, looks nothing like it used to, but then again, neither does the clientele it serves.
Today, Zumba or yoga classes have men and women over 50 striking poses that would have had yesterday’s elders wagging their walking sticks, and team sports offered through the center include volleyball, softball and basketball. Throughout the month of June, some 1,500 senior athletes will flex their muscles in 27 sporting events fit for Olympians when the center holds its 20th Annual Pasadena Senior Games.
The Games, which run June 2 through July 1, pit athletes 50 and over against one another in a range of events designed to test skill, coordination and strength. Don’t let the name “Senior Games” fool you — the title simply describes an age designation, not an occasion convened over a shuffleboard court or bridge table, says Rosedale, who is now the center’s executive director. Over the years, the event has become a way to encourage people to live better through fitness.
“Right now, the focus is on healthy aging. The standard of competition is right up there with any masters (sports) organizations in the country,” says Rosedale.
The Games will take place in several Southern California venues from Pasadena to Long Beach. Olympic theaters within the city limits — for anyone who wants to come catch a free sporting event and perhaps see a record or two broken — will be at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, Pasadena High School and the Senior Center itself, located at 45 E. Holly St., Pasadena.
Athletes are divided into seven age categories, ranging from 50 to 100-plus. The events include team sports, like basketball, volleyball and soccer, along with individual competitions in swimming, tennis, track and field and recreational sports, such as disc golf, racquetball and archery.
“They’re very serious about it,” Rosedale says of the athletes. “I’m already getting calls asking how many people are competing in their age brackets.”
Love of the game
In addition to a sheer diversity in ages, contenders have a wide range of motives for participating each year, Rosedale says. Some do it to revive an interest in a sport they played in their younger days and had to put down to raise families or nurture budding careers. Some are there to compete against themselves for a new personal best, while other Olympians are there for social reasons. And then there are the no-holds-barred competitors.
Take, for example, 65-year-old Arcadia road biker Allen Kizuka. To him, the Senior Games are a good way to partake in some friendly competition and keep in good fighting condition for the other 12 to 15 road races he rides in across the nation each year.
Kizuka, who competed in last year’s National Senior Games in Houston, has been riding in the Pasadena Games for the past 12 years, ever since he saw a flier for the event and learned about the cycling races. Before that, he was a non-competitive long distance rider, but since then he’s acquired a taste for victory.
“Yes, I do have a license to race,” he says. “I’m looking to win, so look out.”
Senior Olympian Louise Jones, 68, competes in basketball and power lifting. For her, the Games are a way to express a natural athleticism she’s fostered her whole life.
“I was always athletic,” she says. “I can remember running for the sheer joy of moving and jumping rope for hours on end. There were no professional sports for women in my young years, but I’ve always loved hiking and biking, and took up running in the ’70s, long before it was popular.”
For the past 10 years, Jones has participated in the Pasadena Senior Games to stay active and interact with others, while continuing to improve her own personal record. The San Marino resident says seniors have come a long way in her lifetime, from barely living past age 70 to competing against one another in strength, stamina and endurance.
“I didn’t know anybody growing up who had a robust grandparent,” Jones recalls. “Seniors might make one grand trip to celebrate retirement, but they were mostly housebound. But I always knew I would be different — I enjoyed moving too much to allow myself to become frail. So it makes me feel good that I found ways to keep my promise to myself.”
Active bodies, active minds
As Boomers and people like Jones gradually ease into their senior years, their proactive approach to health maintenance is leading to an increased demand for more diverse and engaging activities. To respond to that, the Pasadena Senior Center is expanding offerings to satisfy both ends of the age spectrum, says Rosedale.
“Our active classes — strength training, yoga, tai chi — are packed. People’s priorities are different now,” she adds. “The challenge for the future is how do you adjust programming to meet the needs of people who are still working?”
The trend toward healthy aging may be partly attributable to a growing body of research that suggests a strong link between regular exercise and better health outcomes. According to a study conducted by a group of Canadian researchers and published in the 2010 Archives of Internal Medicine, women ages 65 to 75 who participated in muscle-building resistance training once or twice weekly for one year significantly improved their performance in cognitive tests. Another study purports regular exercise and mental activity as a way to ward off brain damaging Alzheimer’s disease, and similar research shows correlations between fitness and bone density, lowered coronary risk and overall longevity.
Whatever the myriad reasons, seniors today are living longer and stronger than most of their 20th century counterparts. The Senior Games, and increasing participation among athletes in the younger age brackets, is a testament to that.
“People always ask who the oldest athlete is,” Rosedale says. “But it’s got to start slowing coming around and focusing on the younger people, because that’s where the future is.”
Despite its growing popularity, there still may be a misconception or two about the Senior Games, namely that it’s not a “serious” competition. The athletes themselves, however, beg to differ.
“You may think well, it’s seniors — they’re not racing, it’s just a bunch of elderly people going to ride,” Kizuka says. “But about three-quarters of the riders in the national games in my age category are licensed racers. I plan to ride until I can’t do it [anymore].”
“Most people don’t know we exist,” Jones adds. “I don’t know that there are misconceptions — I’m too busy training, practicing and having fun to worry about it.”
Registration costs $35, and registration deadlines for events vary. For more information, including dates, times and locations of events, visit pasadenaseniorcenter.org or call (626) 685-6754.