‘Happy Chaos’: Senior Olympics return this January

By Karen Schaffner

January brings the annual resolution of getting fit, eating better and losing weight. 

Participating in the Tucson Parks and Recreation Department’s Senior Olympic Festival is a way to start. From Saturday, January 7, to Saturday, January 28, 700 athletes of all abilities ages 50 and older will compete in more than 29 sports. 

The event categories are archery, badminton, basketball shoot, basketball 3-on-3, billiards, bocce, bowling, bridge, bunco, cribbage, darts, euchre, golf, handball, horseshoes, leisure walks, pickleball, powerlifting, racquetball, road races, shooting events, shuffleboard, softball, swimming, table tennis, tennis, Texas hold ‘em, track and field, and volleyball. 

The registration deadline was December 30; however, some events will accept walk-ups. Visit https://bit.ly/TucsonSeniorOlympics.

“January is a New Year’s resolution time of year for most people, anyway,” festival co-coordinator Joe Stubbins says. “If you haven’t shot hoops or ran or swam or even played cards, we just hear that January is such a good time.”

Within those 29 events, there are sub-categories, including age categories.

“(There’s) men versus women versus teams versus pairs,” festival co-coordinator Debra Henley says.

“We had nine people sign up last year to participate, and they were in the 90-plus category.”

Pickleball is the most popular event, according to Stubbins. They usually get 500 participants. 

“Everybody loves pickleball,” Stubbins adds. 

Not all the events require athletic prowess. Less-athletic people may opt for euchre or cribbage. 

“A lot of our festival is built on social activities, keeping the mind sharp, keeping social activities strong with the senior community,” Stubbins adds.

“Anybody’s able to participate, whether you like to powerlift, play cards or anything in between. Senior Olympics is planning to offer it.”

Although the competition can be friendly, it can also get competitive. Some participants have their eye on the Arizona State Senior Olympics, which are held in March in Phoenix. Tucson hosts the state competition for badminton.

“The road races are split between a 5K and 10K race,” Stubbins says. “It gets pretty competitive, actually. The last couple of years we’ve had somebody set a state record for participating in that event.”

Not everyone, however, can or wants to set a record, and that’s not even the point, according to Stubbins and Henley.

Stubbins and Henley are city of Tucson recreation programmers. They both agree it’s no small task to bring the Olympics to reality.

“We start as early as March and April, starting to book facilities and getting our coordinators in line and making improvements and adding new activities,” Stubbins says.

“(It’s) happy chaos,” Henley adds.

They agree they couldn’t make the Olympics happen if it weren’t for an army of city workers and volunteers. 

“Without those folks, our job at the center would be so much more complicated,” Stubbins says.

Tucson Senior Olympics Festival

WHEN: Saturday, January 7, to Saturday, January 28

WHERE: Various locations around Tucson

COST: Various pricing

INFO: 520-791-4931 or https://bit.ly/TucsonSeniorOlympics