Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Seniors For The Gold: Senior Games Expected To Draw Record Number Of Octogenarian Athletes

“At 89, Harold Bach is preparing to do battle with the whippersnappers in the low end of his age group - the one that starts at 85. ‘I'm on the bad side of the bracket,’ said Bach, a retired mail carrier and Second World War veteran from western North Dakota. Even so, Bach has been training hard for the 2009 Summer National Senior Games in San Francisco, which begin Aug. 1 and run until Aug. 15. The events are open to men and women 50 and over who qualified in state competitions. A record number athletes are expected this year - a projected 12,750 so far, more than five times the number at the first event 22 years ago. More than 2,700 of the athletes are ages 70 to 89, and 63 are older than 90. ‘It keeps me young,’ said Roger Gentilhomme, 100, of Falmouth, Mass., the oldest participant at the Games, which are held every two years. He will compete in bowling and tennis. ‘My health is excellent and I'm fortunate to be able to compete,’ he said. The National Senior Olympics Organization, now called the National Senior Games Association, was founded in St. Louis in 1985. The first Games' ceremonies two years later featured Bob Hope and drew more than 100,000 spectators. Boomer fitness has become a growing trend as people over 50 embrace exercise as a preventative health care measure. ‘Younger people want to work out to look 15 years younger,’ said Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, who coaches octogenarians. ‘Older people exercise to be able to go to the store, work in their gardens, or play with their grandkids.’ Healthways Inc.'s SilverSneakers program, which gives insured seniors free access to fitness centres in the U.S., now has 900,000 members, a marked jump from 377,000 in 2006, according to spokeswoman Tricia Grayson. The average age of a person in the program is 72, and 17 per cent of participants are over 80 years old, she said. At least one member is 101. In an aging population, physical fitness is worth a little boasting.”

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