CHEYENNE – A record number of 13,712 athletes will gather in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the 2019 National Senior Games from Friday until June 25. Add in the estimated 15,000 family members and friends coming to cheer on the athletes and it will be the largest National Senior Games in history.
It is the largest multi-sport event in the world for people ages 50 and over. There are 19 medal sports in this year’s National Games with more than 800 events staged at multiple venues over the two week period.
Among that number are 35 from Wyoming, representing 20 cities and towns scattered around the state. Cheyenne has the highest number of athletes with 17 participants in six different sports.
The games have been held every two years since 1987. Two years ago when the competition was held in Birmingham, Alabama, only 16 athletes competed from Wyoming. Of those, the only gold medal brought home was won by Cheyenne athlete Steve Arnold. He teamed up with three other runners and the foursome not only won the 4x100 meter relay, but they set a National Games record.
“We actually put the team together just 10 minutes before the race,” Arnold said. “With me, the team included a runner from Pennsylvania, one from Tennessee and a friend of mine from Connecticut.”
As he prepares to compete in four track and field events, Arnold said he has a goal this time of coming out ahead of his friend from Connecticut.
“He beat me in both the 50 and 100 meter races last time,” Arnold said. “I hope to come out ahead this time.”
A second Cheyenne athlete hopes to repeat and maybe even improve her medal performance from the last time she competed. In 2015, Gay Woodhouse brought home the bronze in the 20 kilometer cycling road race.
“I’d like to medal again,” Woodhouse said. “I’ve been working with a coach and have really pushed to increase my endurance. I’ve been training hard – rather than just exercising out on a bicycle.”
Woodhouse competes in the 40km and 20km road races as well as the 5km and 10km time trials. Also competing in the time trial races is Cheyenne cyclist John Cox who, like Woodhouse, is a member of Cheyenne’s Spradley Barr Wind Chill Cycling team.
“My goal is to be in my best possible shape by race day,” Cox said. “I’ve qualified to race before, but this will be my first time to actually compete at Nationals.”
Each competitor must first qualify for Nationals by medaling at any of the 52 state-level games held throughout the country and Canada. The Wyoming qualifying Senior Games were held last August in Laramie.
Pickleball players Linda Doering and Mary Kaszuba are teaming up in the Women’s Doubles competition. They said they’ve qualified in the past but decided to go to Nationals this year since they are finally within driving distance.
“We figured it would just be a fun time to drive to Albuquerque and give it a go,” Doering said. “It will be a ‘girl’s trip’ to just have some fun.”
For anyone thinking of giving the Wyoming State Games a try for the first time this is a good year since both the 2019 and 2020 events are in Cheyenne. The first year is considered a trial run not only for the competitors but also for race directors. Then in 2020, the qualifying year, competitors vie to earn a slot at the National Senior Games. The next national event will take place in 2021 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Woodhouse recommends finding a sport you enjoy to get started. She admits to being addicted to cycling. She even attends cycling camps to improve her technique and she learns even more from her fellow members on the Wind Chill Cycling team.
“The team riders really push me,” Woodhouse said. “I’ve learned a lot of racing technique from them, though, and they ride at a really high level. I truly believe I can get faster even as I get older.”
While getting faster with age may not be in the cards for everyone, being active and participating in myriad sports offered at the Senior Games can offer motivation to just become more active with age. Whether for fun or for competition, for those age 50 and over, plan now for the Wyoming State Games held Aug. 7-10 with registration ending July 19. The Winter Senior Games will be held in February 2020 and 2021 in Laramie.