Athletes conquer the field, set new records at National Senior Games

Everyone expected good things from runner Jeanne Daprano in this year’s National Senior Games  (NSG) Track events, and she didn’t disappoint the crowds.  The 77-year old runner from Fayetteville, Ga., had already broken a national record for the 800M race in her age bracket the previous day, and was ready to take on Friday’s massive 1500M run amid eight other contestants at Baldwin-Wallace University’s George Finnie Stadium.

The sunny weather cooperated nicely for the 2013 NSG Track and Field events, blessing athletes with low humidity and a gentle breeze. But the weather can’t cool down the competitive vibes as Daprano and the women’s 1500M squad (age 75-79) get set in their lanes at the starting line. “No elbows, and no pushing,” warns the starting line judge. Then the starting gun goes off.

Halfway through the 1500M race, Daprano has a comfortable lead but keeps pushing herself for her personal best timings. She completes the race with a time of 7:18, crushing the previous Senior Games record for the event. Instead of celebrating, she remains focused at the finish line, cheering  on each remaining runner.

Eleanor Pendergraft, 78, from Johnson City, Tenn., is noticeably limping during the last lap, with a hand on her knee brace. But Daprano and all the other racers urge her on, telling her she has to finish. Pendergast pours on the steam during the last 100M and finishes the race in 8th place. At the finish line, she’s greeted by all her racing comrades, who hug her and tell her she did a great job.

The end of this 1500M race isn’t the end of Daprano’s athletic competitions;  she and her husband will now travel to Turin, Italy, for the International Senior Games, she says.

Now it’s the men’s turn for the 1500M race, and so many are participating in the 80-85 age bracket that the athletes fill all the available track lanes.  At the starting line, Gherett Smith, age 80, from McKeesport, Pa., asks the line judge for clarification on when it’s permissible to cross over the lanes to gain the inside edge. His strategy clearly pays off, as he takes a massive lead early on. He finishes with a time of 7:20, but not quite enough for an NSG record.

“I was RIGHT behind you,” jokes John Corbet, 80, of Miamisburg, Ohio, who finished second after a long lag. “Take a picture of us!” both men say, posing for the many media cameras. But first, Smith demands a pause from photographers, while he fishes something out of the tiny pocket in his running shorts. “Gotta put in my tooth,” he says, sticking a false tooth into his front gap.

The NSG Track and Field events showcased many other winners:

  • Lillian Web, age 99, of Sebring, Fla., was the sole competitor in the women’s 100M dash in her age class, and she did it less than 39 seconds.
  • Don Snyder, 91, from Biloxi, Miss., ran the 800M in 7:53.
  • Harold Bach, 93, of Dickinson, ND, set a new record for the men’s 100M dash this year, finishing in less than 22 seconds.

Perhaps the biggest winner of the day was the on-site ambulance service, whose emergency medical attendant remained idle all day, having nothing to do.

These senior athletes are clearly not just in it for themselves. They’re in it for each other. They’re here to break the stereotypes still held by others about older people and what they’re capable of. They’re here to break the old-model definitions of “senior living” and “senior care.”

So: Heads up to senior residences and continuing care retirement communities and assisted living and all the other senior-care segments we can name: These athletes are part of your new and upcoming demographic.

For all finishing times mentioned in this article, see the 2013 National Senior Games Results page.

Click the photo above to see the photo gallery.

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