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Senior Athletes

Jimmy Magahern | Dec 31, 2012, 9:59 a.m.
At age 68, Gayle Clawson is a competitive powerlifter who has won dozens of metals, plaques and trophies as a senior athlete. Adam Moreno

That one will be easy for her to win again this year. “I’ll be the only one in it!” she says, with a laugh. “There aren’t any more old girls in my age group who are still doing this. So I’ll be competing against my own record.”

Brandt, who lives in Leisure World in the East Valley and frequents the community’s gym to work out, wishes more of her peers would get involved in competitive sports, particularly since she’s discovered the health benefits of staying engaged in more strenuous athletics.

“My doctors are all very interested,” she says. “I’ve been blessed with good health to start with, but this definitely helps me stay healthy.” Research backs her up: in a 2011 issue of the global, peer-reviewed medical journal Physician and Sportsmedicine, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that competitive runners, cyclists and swimmers in their 60s, 70s and 80s maintained nearly the leg strength of athletes in their 40s. Dr. Vonda Wright, the orthopedic surgeon who oversaw the study, said of the results, “They suggest strongly that people don’t have to lose muscle mass and function as they grow older. The changes that we’ve assumed were due to aging and therefore were unstoppable seem actually to be caused by inactivity. And that can be changed.”

In his book, “Second Wind: The Rise of the Ageless Athlete,” Lee Bergquist quotes another expert, Miriam Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. “I firmly believe,” Nelson said, “that we have underestimated as a culture, and maybe even in the field of exercise science, what older adults are capable of doing. It’s really important for people to realize that you should not underestimate what someone can do based on age, gender or chronic disease.”

For Barbara Brandt, proving those estimations wrong is the whole point of the Senior Olympics. “We’ve gotten to know a lot of people who have been doing the Senior Olympics for a while now, like we have. And they all see the benefits. It takes some effort to stay with it. But it’s definitely worth it.”

Competitive Streak

Priscilla Scott got into playing pickleball, a racquet sport similar to tennis but played on a smaller court and with different rules, as a way to play sports together with her husband. “As it turns out,” says the 59-year-old Tucson woman, “we discovered we like to play against each other more!”

Scott, who’s competed in the Arizona Senior Olympics several times and is thrilled that the popular senior sport is finally being included for the first time this year in the National Senior Games, says it’s the competitive nature of the events that makes training for the games more fun than your average fitness program.

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Each year hundreds of Valley seniors compete in the Arizona Senior Olympics.

“That’s what many people find, as they get more competitive about it,” says Scott, who heads up an informal pickleball club at the Voyager RV Resort in Tucson that draws in more than 350 players during the peak winter season. “We have some players who aren’t very good, but they don’t care. They’re just out there laughing and having fun and getting some exercise every afternoon for an hour. But then there are the people who are really into it for the competition.”

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