By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Region – When the Massachusetts Senior Games (MASG) are held at Springfield College this June, there will be hundreds of athletes age 40 and up participating in sports such as track and field, swimming, basketball, tennis, racquetball, table tennis and volleyball. Some participants have been lifelong athletes while others may be taking up a sport after a hiatus. And still others may be trying an entirely new sport for the first time. What they will all have in common is what Davis Cox, the group’s state ambassador, calls their unofficial slogan – “Get fit, have fun and make friends!”
Other sporting events, including winter sports, are held throughout the state at different times of the year. Those who participate in the state games have a chance to qualify for the National Games which are held every other year. The 2017 National Games will be held in Birmingham, Ala. (Athletes must be 50 or older to participate in the National Games.)
The reasons why each athlete competes are as different as the athletes themselves. And in their own way, they are each inspiring.
Growing up, Beth Whitman, 51, never thought of herself as an athlete.
“I was never particularly coordinated and didn’t enjoy gym class,” she said. “I thought I couldn’t really do sports.”
In college, she decided to try aerobics and then joined a women’s gym, both of which she enjoyed. But it wasn’t until she met her husband Mike three years ago, that she really started having fun, she said, participating in triathlons and 5Ks. Last November, she placed first in her age category in the Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce 5K in Northborough, which served as the official MASG road race.
“Mike is a runner so this is something that we can enjoy doing together,” she said. “And now I know that fitness is a big part of our lives, I want us to be able to do this for the rest of our lives.”
Mike Whitman, 62, ran cross country in high school and college, but then only ran the occasional 5K. It was at the suggestion of a trainer at the gym he had joined last year that he decided to start running again.
“He could see the passion I still had for running and he helped me prepare to start again,” Whitman said.
In spite of a minor injury, he medaled in the MASG’s 1,500-meter track event held in June in Springfield.
Four years ago, Dave Brower had never played the game of pickleball. Now, he’s not only a medalist, he is also one of the most passionate advocates of the sport in the region. This June he will be overseeing the games as well as playing in a few matches himself.
“It’s an easy game to play,” he said. “You have the social aspect and it’s also competitive.”
“The Senior Games are great,” he added. “It such an interesting atmosphere – friendly and welcoming, not intimidating at all. Everyone is so happy to be there.”
Fred Thompson, 75, now the president of the MASG board of directors, originally started competing in the MASG for the competition. Now, he said, he does it as a way to not only stay active but also to serve as a role model for others his age.
“I want others to know they can do this, no matter their age,” he said. “I am hopeful more seniors will participate and that we, as organizers, will have more opportunities for them to do so.
“I also want younger people to see that adopting a healthy lifestyle when you are young will pay off.”
Thompson has competed in the National Games 10 times so far and is looking forward to the games in Birmingham next year. His sports include cycling, triathlon, racquetball and track.
Greg Tooker, 75, has always been athletic, competing in a number of marathons throughout his life. He also credits his constant diligence to physical fitness with helping him survive a bout with tongue cancer in 2001.
“I had a wonderful doctor and treatment but I also had a positive frame of mind. I kept running throughout my treatment,” he said.
After his neighbor told him about MASG several years ago, he decided to participate, not only in running events but in golf and skiing as well. Since then, he has also competed in the New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island senior games.
“I really like the way they are run, “he said. “And the competition level is amazing.”
Tooker now serves as the secretary on the MASG board. He, too, is hopeful that others will realize that although they may have some physical comprises, they will still be inspired, as he was, to join the MASG.
In 2013, when Davis Cox turned 74, he was “overweight and had several physical problems.”
“I looked in the mirror one day and said to myself ‘I don’t want to be an old person. I can’t end up like this for the rest of my life,’” he recalled. “But in spite of my problems, I still felt like a young man in an old man’s body.”
As a youngster he had dreamed of doing the decathlon. And now, thanks to his determination, hard work and most of all passion for the MASG, he is well on his way. Over the past few years, he has medaled in the pentathlon, competing in long jump, javelin, discus, 100-meter sprint and shotput.
He is also a state ambassador, meeting groups all across the commonwealth to spread the word about MASG.
“It has really changed my life in so many ways,” he said. “I want as many others to feel as I do.”
This year the summer games will be held at Springfield College Saturday, June 18, although there are many other events scheduled for other days in other locations.
Visit the MASG website, www.maseniorgames.org, for more information and details on how to register and become a sponsor.