SENIOR ATHLETICS

Dr. Marques Rhoades

Member, South Dakota Senior Games Board of Directors

Orthopedic Surgeon

Avera Sacred Heart Hospital

Yankton, SD

 

A senior or masters level athlete is someone, male or female, who trains and competes in a variety of events with their age group peers. The classification of a senior athlete varies depending on the particular event. The minimum age to be classified as a ' senior'  is 50 years old. In our contemporary culture “athletics” is usually equated with the young and those individuals who able to compete at an elite level frequently are afforded financial reward and/or special recognition. However, competing at this level is usually short lived. Because only a very few can achieve an elite level most athletes must find intrinsic value in athletics in order to sustain their involvement. That is, training and competition must provide a degree of personal enjoyment, satisfaction of achievement, or physical, mental, and even spiritual benefits. There are very few fans that are willing to pay to watch, or even watch, senior competition. The spectators are usually just family or friends, and even then often through coercion. Therefore, the rewards for the senior athlete must be purely intrinsic. The late Dr. George Sheehan, who was the prototype senior athlete, stated that, “the memorable thing is not how you compete against others, but how you compete against yourself”. This creed is held by many of the athletes who train and compete at a senior level.

 

Although, the senior athlete comprises an extremely small percentage of middle aged and older adults they frequently set the “gold standard” for fitness for their peers. There are many scientific studies on senior athletes that demonstrate the level of fitness that can be achieved as we age. All too often aging is viewed as an inevitable process of deterioration, over which we have little control. However, aging should be viewed as a process that involves three separate, yet interconnected components. First, there is the passage of time that carries changes predetermined by nature and genetics. We do not fully understand what changes are entirely due to aging and try as we might we have very little control over these changes. Second, are the disease processes, such as chronic cardiopulmonary disease, that can accelerate the aging process. Through preventative measures and the many advancements in medical science we do have some control over this component. Finally, there is disuse that produces changes that are often attributed to natural aging. Disuse is the one component that, despite some limitations, is within our control. As is often quoted, “if you rest you rust”. The senior athlete has found a way of attacking the aging process, especially disuse. Another quote is that, “we don’t stop playing because we are old, but we become old because we stop playing”.

 

Many senior events involve aerobic or endurance training and competition. Our aerobic capacity can be equated with our level of fitness and is measured by the VO2max. The VO2max is the ability of the body to efficiently utilize oxygen. From the age of 25 the VO2max declines, and if left unchecked can reach a level where some older individuals are precariously close to a disability. It is well recognized that with regular moderate exercise this decline can be positively altered. The studies done on senior athletes, involved in aerobic activities, show that they can achieve and maintain a fitness level equal to non-athletes twenty years younger. Just being a former athlete does not provide any protection against the decline. Therefore, to be effective exercise needs to be maintained. We can lose up to 50% of a high level of fitness within just three weeks of inactivity, and it can be completely lost within a few months. Too frequently individuals defer participating in the younger age groups, only to find that when they are older the effects of disuse and degeneration prevent their participation. Although, there are many who have been participating for several years, a significant number do start in their sixth, seventh, or even eighth decades.

 

Many may not feel that they have the capacity or the ability to participate in senior athletics. However, at the senior level there are events that are suitable for almost anyone who has the interest and wants to challenge themselves, through competition with their peers, improve their health, and have fun. The events include track and field, swimming, basketball, tennis, golf, bowling, archery, shuffleboard, and horseshoes. In many locations there are even opportunities for team competition in basketball, baseball, and softball.

 

In South Dakota games are held locally at thirteen locations from May through August, with the South Dakota State Senior Games held in September at a different city every two years. The National Senior Games Association has biennial national competitions as well.  They are held on odd-numbered years. Several of our athletes represent our state at these games.  All of these events are wonderful opportunities to participate and fellowship with others who are making the best of their “Golden Years”.  Everyone is invited.  Come join the fun and increase your quality of life while doing so.