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The Senior Olympics Turn Silver Into Gold.

By Tom Danehy

THE OTHER DAY at the Fitness and Health Institute of Tucson (known as FIT, where the "H" is not only silent but also invisible), fitness expert extraordinaire Todd Judge was helping an extremely mature woman with a weight-training routine.

Todd's patience in such matters hints at either an adherence to an industrial-strength Eastern religion, serious abuse of prescription drugs, or an inner peace which comes from helping others. He claims the latter, and we believe him.

Anyway, this woman was lifting weights and screaming like a banshee. The scene would have been comical were it not so disconcerting. She was grunting and groaning and giving Todd looks like women in labor give their husbands in badly-written movies. She would lift a weight, make a few animal noises, then grunt at Todd when he suggested that she do one more rep (for a total of two).

Believe me, it's not easy doing the stair-climber when Theater of the Absurd is unfolding right before your eyes. Todd was helping her, and she seemed willing to endure the discomfort, but then she'd lift a weight and the yelling would start all over again.

By the end of the workout she was accusing Todd of surreptitiously adding weight to the machine when she wasn't looking, to make her feel bad. Todd just smiled that my-body-is-here-but-my-mind-is-in-Tahiti smile and urged her on.

This woman should be congratulated for her effort to begin an exercise regimen at her age, but one hopes that as her stamina increases, she's able to exorcise the spirit of Monica Seles from her persona. If not, the only people who'll be left at FIT will be Todd, the woman, and the SWAT team responding to her cries for help.

It all reminded me of the glorious scenes I'd witnessed the week before at various sites around town during the Senior Olympics. For those who missed it, the Senior Olympics was a resounding success. Thousands of senior athletes and their entourages came to town. The weather was as good as one could ever hope for in late May in Tucson. The competition was spirited and good-natured. And the whole thing offered a pleasant glimpse of a possible future for millions of us as we barrel headlong toward the grey years.

See, I'm looking forward to being a senior athlete. Mostly, I'm looking forward to being a senior. And some would say I should be looking forward to the day I finally become an athlete.

I loved what I saw those two weeks in Tucson: senior athletes competing in scores of events, pushing themselves and having a great time doing it. In a way, it's probably like college sports were 50 years ago--relatively clean, well-played and done mostly for the love of sport.

I'm afraid to think what it'll be like when I'm eligible to compete. So far the Baby Boomers have screwed up just about everything with their greedy, me-first approach to life. By the time we're 65, Senior Olympics will probably be big business, with hype and nonsense and narcissistic overtones.

It'll probably get big TV ratings, sponsored by Plastic Surgery 'R' Us and Geritol-flavored Gatorade.

Some of my younger friends were somewhat put off by the Senior Olympics. Lord knows the thought of 75-year-olds playing volleyball isn't for everyone. I think it's cool. As long as it's not at a nudist colony. I get real bad motion sickness.

I got to see a lot of the events and I was very happy to learn that while some other fires dim, the one connected to competitiveness burns on. These people were off into it.

My daughter Darlene was volunteering at volleyball matches around town--the UA Recreation Center one day, Udall Park the next, McKale Center for the finals. She kept score of matches and occasionally was called upon to do line judging.

During one match, she called a ball in and got screamed at by one of the players who'd lost the point. Darlene was stunned. I think in the wonderfully sweet world in which she lives, she can't imagine somebody's grandmother yelling at anybody.

During a time-out, I told Darlene if that woman ever yelled at her again, Darlene should grab her own chest and pretend she's having an angina attack. That'll get the biddy's attention real quick. Poor Darlene looked at me with that look she gets when she wonders if she was somehow switched at birth. (Like that stuff really happens.)

It was cool seeing all of the senior athletes. They traveled in groups, bright shirts announcing their presence and home towns. They walked along slowly and confidently, making small talk to cut the tension, all minds focused on the game ahead or the one just completed.

And just like every team I've ever played on, after the game, they headed for the closest all-you-can-eat place.

It was especially impressive at the UA, a place increasingly known nationally and internationally for its athletes. Here with school out and the Senior Olympics in, the campus was aswarm with athletes, most with more varicose veins than bulging biceps, but hardly lacking in dedication or enthusiasm.

Plus, you not only had on the UA campus a group of athletes who actually knew who Herbert Hoover was, you had some who voted for him. Twice.

A lot of hard work went into bringing the Senior Olympics here. The UA, notoriously tight-fisted in such matters, let the seniors use the facilities for cost of maintenance and utilities. A virtual army of volunteers (they filled the TCC one Sunday to pick up their credentials and packets) helped the games run smoothly. And the athletes came, competed, and left better for the experience.

It was a great two weeks for Tucson.

I'm looking forward to competing in the 2018 Senior Olympics. I just hope TV Remote Control Switching is a sanctioned event by that time.

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