Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Torch is Passed

By Tom Behrens

The 2011 Summer National Senior Games presented by Humana is coming to an end, but the excitement of the competition, meeting old friends, and the new friendships will never be forgotten.

Who can forget the lighting of the Senior Games Cauldron, kicking off the start of the Games? Harry Pepper, 100, and Kay Glynn, 58, both athletes participating in the Games, touched the torch to a fuse. The flame rose to the top of the 28-foot cauldron. Pepper went on to win a Gold Medal in Singles Bowling and Glynn took home a handful of medals of her own.

Or how about when more than 5,000 people packed the Houston Toyota Center for the Celebration of Athletes? The flags of all 50 states, the Veterans Games, the District of Columbia, the Canada 55+ Games and the European Senior Games were carried into the arena by two senior athletes representing each state, organization or country. One hundred forty seven international athletes participated in the Games.

With a registered 10,000 athletes, ranging in age from 50 to 101, the Games began on June 16. The athletes, plus family and friends, converged on Houston. The 2011 Summer National Senior Games were the first to allow Canadian athletes to participate under the Canadian flag. Letty Abbott, 72, from Canada was heard saying that the heat in Houston was something she was going to adjust to.

“We are not used to that,” Abbot said.

Charles J. Gatti Jr., an 81-year-old bowler from Lancaster, Penn., and Graham M. Johnston, an 80-year-old swimmer and 1952 Olympian from Houston, were inducted into the National Senior Games Association Hall of Fame.

Many of the athletes, besides competing and preparing themselves for their respective sports, overcame life struggles.

Jose Badillo, 73, from Nebraska, who participated in the track and field venue, is a prostate cancer survivor. Prostate cancer is not the end of the road for Badillo.

“We just have to apply ourselves a little bit stronger to be successful,” Badillo said.

Vivian Stancil, 64, of Riverside, Calif., completely lost her sight at the age of 19. She swims the 100 freestyle and the 50 yard backstroke. Blindness has not stopped her from competing.

“When I get to the end of the lane I hear the water splashing against the wall; I can judge by the noise how close I am to the wall,” Stancil said. “I brush against the ropes, and I know it’s time to move over.”

Carol Jean Vosburg, 70, of Treasure Island, Fla., overcame open-heart surgery, back surgery, and an accident while cycling.

“After a plate and six screws in my left leg, I’m still out there doing it,” she said. Vosburg took home a gold medal, 1:20:39, for her age class in the triathlon competition.

More than 2,000 medals were given out in basketball, cycling, track & field, volleyball, race walk, road race, table tennis, badminton, racquetball, tennis, bowling and swimming.

Texas athletes took top honors with more than 350 medals. Tennessee, California, and Florida athletes all earned more than 100 medals. Numerous records were broken in all sports.

John Boggs, 51, from Charleston, W.Va., earned his first National Senior Games medal, a gold one, in the triathlon. He said the toughest part of the race began when the Texas heat came out in full force. “I was thinking I was ready for it to end,” Boggs said.

The spirit evinced by all the athletes had an inspiring effect on all those in Houston who witnessed the competitions. That same spirit will be evident in Cleveland in 2013. The representatives from Cleveland received the National Senior Games Association flag in Houston at the Celebration of Athletes. In 2013, it will be their turn to light the flame that represents the essence of the National Senior Games.

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