Haines athletes go for gold at National Senior Games

The Alaska track and field competitors at the Alaska Senior Games in 2018.

The Alaska track and field competitors at the Alaska Senior Games in 2018. (Photo courtesy Nancy Nash)

The golden years are no time to slow down — they’re a time to bring home gold medals.

That’s why competitors in Haines are gearing up for the National Senior Games.

On a brilliant day on the track, most of the snow was gone on Mount Ripinsky. Connie Ward, 59, was glowing with exertion in the evening light. Launching a discus through the air, Ward set a new personal best.

“Seventy-two feet, 3 inches!” yelled Nancy Nash, her training partner, waving the measuring tape.

“Wait, I gotta write that down,” Ward said. “At my age I forget a lot!”

Nash is 10 years Ward’s senior. She rolled up the huge tape measure she used to log the throws. Some high schoolers had already left the track for the night, but Ward and Nash had javelins to hurl — and then a couple more rounds of shot put practice.

“I said to my son who called me for Mother’s Day, ‘I think there’s not that many women sprinting at my age,’” Nash laughed. “And he goes, ‘Mom, I think there’s even fewer doing shot put at your age!’”

The Senior Games — also known as the Senior Olympics — is the largest multi-sport event in the world for seniors. These competitors are flipping the script on popular conceptions of what an athlete can be.

Del Moon is a spokesperson for the National Senior Games Association in Florida.

“When you see whole families wearing shirts that say, ‘Go grandma,’ that’s the kind of thing we want to put in front of people, to say, ‘You’ve gotta rethink what you thought aging was, because you’re shortchanging yourself,’” he said.

Moon said American society is hard-wired to pass on ageist stereotypes that seniors can’t be competitive athletes. But these games prove that’s not true.

“The body was made to keep going, all you have to do is take care of it,” he said. “If you are 32 and you think life ends at 50, you are completely brainwashed!”

The community of Haines has an aging population: 20% are over 65. That gives this Southeast borough the highest percentage of seniors in Alaska and older than average nationwide.

Nash has broken barriers in track and field before.

That’s because she attended high school before Title IX — the landmark provision in a 1972 law that forced public schools to offer equal sporting opportunities for boys and girls. There were no sports teams for girls at her high school.

But Nash competed anyway, in a small, girls-only league that formed independently of her high school in Michigan.

“This was in ’65, I think, that I learned to shot put and sprint, and that’s what I’m doing (at the National Senior Games),” Nash said. “And it came right back to me! And I was pretty sure I could sprint at my age.”

Ward went to school post-Title IX. She still holds records there. Lately she has extra motivation.

“I like it because it shows to my kids your mom still has it,” she said with a smile.

The games run June 14-25. These boomers hope to have precious metal souvenirs when they return from sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico.

For the curious and informed.

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