Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 6:30 AM
Hundreds of athletes from around the country are coming to town for two weeks to compete in the National Senior Games. ideastream's David C. Barnett reports that if you think senior sports are confined to checkers and shuffleboard, think again.
In her last marathon run, 65-year-old Jeannie Rice of suburban Cleveland was getting close to the finish line when a muscle spasm sent her tumbling to the street.
JEANNIE RICE: I fell at about the 24th mile; I scraped my knee and my elbow. I lay there for a couple minutes, and all the runners were running by. I just was so angry.
The medical team rushed out to take her to an emergency tent, but she resisted.
JEANNIE RICE: I said, "No, just help me up. I have to finish." So, when they helped me up, I said thank you very much and I kept running.
DCB: She finished the race… but it was a short celebration. About an hour later on that sunny April day, two explosions brought the Boston Marathon to an abrupt close. It was tragic and frightening, Rice is the first to admit.
JEANNIE RICE(7:00): That was a very scary moment.
But it hasn't deterred her enthusiasm for running, and she's looking forward to her next race… at the 2013 National Senior Games, held this year in Cleveland. The bi-annual sporting event debuted in St. Louis back in 1987, drawing 2500 athletes. Greater Cleveland Sports Commission CEO David Gilbert says over 11,000 are registered for this year's Games.
DAVID GILBERT: We have more athletes coming to Cleveland than were in London for the Olympics.
Athletes, ranging from 50-years-old to 90-plus, compete in 19 Olympic-style events --- everything from 10K runs and swim meets, to pole vaulting. The Sports Commission has hosted dozens of athletic competitions over the past decade, and David Gilbert says preparations for the Senior Games aren't all that different --- with a few exceptions. For example, special arrangements have been made with local hospitals to deal with potential cardiac issues. And not everyone's on Facebook.
DAVID GILBERT We've had to deal with this demographic not being as up to speed on social media, so more reservations and registrations are coming in on paper; things like that. But, those are really minor things. Other than that, we're doing what we've done before, just on a larger scale.
SOUND: Pulling bike out of car
Sixty-three-year-old Bill Cloninger who lives east of the city is looking forward to the cycling competition. Pulling a sleek racing bike from the back of his SUV, Cloninger has spent the past few weeks honing his skills here in the Cleveland Metroparks.
BILL CLONINGER: One of the amazing things about it is that we'll have 11-12,000 athletes from all across the country, and all of us are against the mold.
Just three years ago, Cloninger says he was very much in the mold of a sedentary senior. His job at a local bank puts him behind a desk eight hours a day.
BILL CLONINGER: Back in 2010, my weight had ballooned --- I weighed 265-270 lbs. I was sixty-years-old at the time and said, I've got to do something.
He started walking regularly, worked out at the nearby South Franklin Circle Wellness Center, and then took-up cycling. He's since lost close to 100 pounds.
BILL CLONINGER: One of the things that's fun, I go riding occasionally with some guys from work in their 30s. And when they are huffing and puffing, trying to keep up with me, and I'm not breaking a sweat yet, it makes it all worthwhile.
SOUND: Table Tennis AMBI
Three days a week, members of the Tri-County Table Tennis Club smash ping pong balls back and forth across long green tables in the JFK Senior Center. 70-year-old Carlo Wolff adjusts his soaked sweatband between sets with fellow septuagenarian Fumio Yoshikawa --- both of them have signed-up for the Senior Games. Wolff's been playing table tennis since he was nine, and the reality of aging has been sinking in, recently.
CARLO WOLFF: The older you grow, the more you think about growing old. Keeping active has really helped me. And the older I grow, the more I value it. If I don't play for a week, I feel it.
Jeannie Rice, is looking to get in four more marathons, before the end of the year.
JEANNIE RICE: I'd like to do 100. I feel like I don't have a whole lot of time left.
Rice says she's bothered sometimes by the fact that she's 65 - can't quite get her head around growing old. But she's evidently doing something right…
JEANNIE RICE: Sometimes, I go pick-up my grandkids, and some people think I'm the mom!
Seems a life of physical activity is keeping the years at bay.