For athlete Sarah Sneider, the Pasadena Senior Games have kept her young.
“You don’t stop playing games when you get old; you get old because you stop playing games,” she said.
Sneider will join more than 1,200 others at this year’s games, which run from Sunday, May 28, to Sunday, July 16. They feature 16 Olympic-style events, including track and field, archery, swimming, tennis, pickleball, disc golf and softball, among others. Registration is open.
The Pasadena Senior Games were founded in 1993 by former Pasadena Senior Center staff member Cynthia Rosedale as part of a national network of sports competitions for adults 50 and older. Pasadena was an early adopter of the games, which began nationally in 1987.
Rosedale was an unwavering advocate for improving the lives of seniors and began countless programs at the senior center. Although she died in 2016, her support continued through her legacy gift to the games, which continues to fund the event.
The sporting events are held throughout the city and beyond, depending on available facilities. Swimming is held at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, track and field is at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, and tennis is at the Arcadia Tennis Center.
Unlike the Pasadena Senior Games, a regional event, the National Senior Games are hosted biennially by the National Senior Games Association, which sets the standard for all the senior games, including the state and local competitions.
To qualify for nationals, competitors must rank in the top four at a state competition. The next set of National Senior Games for which athletes can qualify is in 2025, making the Pasadena Senior Games in 2024 a qualifying year to go to nationals.
Studies have confirmed that physical activity and mental engagement can delay and lessen the effects of aging.
In addition to preventing myriad ailments like coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, colon cancer and diabetes, exercise for older adults also helps with mobility and balance, preventing serious injuries due to falls.
As much as the games motivate seniors to stay active, the event also deconstructs ideas around aging and what is possible after 50.
“It’s important for society to understand that your ability to not only physically do things but to care about going out and being your best self is not something that stops at age 50,” said Annie Laskey, director of events at the Pasadena Senior Center.
“Aging in our current society has not always been looked at positively. There’s a real focus on youth and the young. … Watching a 70-year-old pole vaulting and a 90-year-old running a 5000-meter race along with the 50-year-olds focused on being that person 40 years down the line gives a whole different sensibility to what aging means. It’s a positive image for everybody.”
Participants range from former Olympians and serious athletes chasing world records to newbies who are picking up a sport for fun.
Many competitions, like swimming and track and field, have master and novice categories, like the 25-yard swim and power walking, for those who want to adopt a healthier lifestyle but might not feel ready to enter a more extreme competition.
“The games allow for that kind of expansiveness and inclusiveness for elite athletes and less-experienced competitors,” Laskey said.
While many compete as serious athletes with goals of medaling, most look forward to catching up with old friends.
“The games are just a wonderful opportunity to be motivated to stay fit, and you meet amazing people at the games; they’re like family,” Sneider said.
“When I lost my husband, I was devastated, and staying fit and preparing for the games was extremely helpful. … It’s like a reunion every year when you get back together with the people you compete with in the games. Seeing each other again is something we can look forward to. We’re just happy to be alive and be able to participate.”
Sneider and her son, Rob, who turned 50 this year and will compete in the games for the first time, host the powerlifting event at their gym, Sneiders Family Fitness.
Sneider’s husband, Harry, who died in 2014, was a world-champion powerlifter and began the gym with his wife in 1990. The gym has hosted the powerlifting event since the games started in Pasadena in 1993.
Now 78, Sneider began powerlifting in the senior games when she was 50. Since then, she has branched out to other events like rope climbing, the long jump, cycling, feats of strength, and track and field. During the National Senior Games in Albuquerque in 2019, she won a gold medal in track and field. At past Pasadena Senior Games, she has medaled in rope climbing and the long jump. During this year’s games, Sneider will again compete in powerlifting, the long jump, and the 50- and 100-meter races.
Jeanne Roy, who runs multiple track and field events in the games, learned of the senior games after discovering Julia Hurricane Hawkins, a centenarian track and field star.
The 62-year-old Roy wasn’t an athlete until she began competing in the senior games. During the Palm Desert Senior Games, her most recent competition, Roy took home three gold medals in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter races.
“The games have given me a sense of pride,” Roy said.
“It’s allowed me to push myself physically in a way I never had before. … I was unaware of how much I could do, how hard I could push, and how competitive I could be. … It’s given me insight into my abilities and made me realize that there’s no reason that you know, barring unforeseen circumstances, any of this that should have to stop.
“There are women and men in their ’80s, ’90s and hundreds that I look at, and I’m in awe. The thing is, there’s nothing unique or special about them. They’re just willing to get out there and do what needs to be done to excel in their sport.”
Pasadena Senior Games
Various times Sunday, May 28, to Sunday, July 16
Locations and costs vary. See pasadenaseniorcenter.org