Fun and games: Dust off those athletic skills

You never know when you’ll see a hundred-year-old man throw the shot put. Or a 90-year-old woman earn several gold medals swimming all one day.

From all over the Pacific Northwest, men and women age 50 or more go to Olympia each summer to test their strength, endurance and skills at the Washington State Senior Games. Organizers are putting out the call for participants to start getting ready.

Attracting nearly 2,000 athletes, the Games have created an annual ritual of “fierce but friendly competition,” as one winded sprinter said after finishing second in the women’s 100-meter dash last year. Competitors often bring their spouses, children and grandchildren to the event, coming from as far away as Oregon, Idaho, California and Canada.

While traditional sports like soccer, track and field, and men’s softball draw hundreds to their venues, other competitions such as ballroom dancing, indoor rock climbing, disc golf and cowboy action shooting have smaller but equally loyal followings, too.

Pickleball, a sport that originated on Bainbridge Island, is now the fastest-growing sport in America, especially among seniors. The Washington Senior Games’ pickleball tournament, which will be staged Aug. 3-5 in Lakewood, has swelled to more than 200 participants over the past several years.

“With some of our sports, like basketball, we see the kind of cross-state rivalries you remember from your high school days,” said Jack Kiley, president of the Games. “By and large, though, most athletes come to compete against themselves. Every year is a challenge to see if you’ve lost a step or maybe gained a step over last year’s performance.”

As organizers like to say, it’s friends, not medals, that fuel the Games. As soon as the heat of competition subsides, the warmth of friendship takes over.

That doesn’t mean that competitors don’t have some glory at stake in dozens of sports the Games offers. Athletes finishing first, second or third in their events automatically qualify for the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, N.M. next year.

Anyone who wants to compete or be a volunteer worker in the Games can get more at 360-413-0148

Traditional competitions like track and field share the Senior Games stage with unique events such as ballroom dancing and disc golf.