Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Older area athletes doing much more than just golf

By Joe Paisley Updated: July 27, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Retirement and recreation doesn't just mean golf anymore.

Bob Stayton, 86, cannot imagine retirement without it.

He grew up near an Independence, Mo., golf course, got his first job there caddying, and flirted with turning professional when $300 was good money for a PGA event champion.

"It's a fascinating sport," he said. "I understand why others take up other sports but when you reach my age, you can handle nine holes."

While senior golf tournaments will never be confused with cycling, hockey or basketball in required exertion, all play for the same reasons: camaraderie, exercise and competition.

Luckily for athletes age 50 or older, there are ample opportunities in Colorado Springs to compete.

In athletics, age is different than on the calendar, especially in some sports when 30 is past your prime. Consider how often no-name newcomers to the senior golf tour do better at 51 compared to bigger names competing in their 60s.

In recreation, age 50 is young enough to compete against those in their 40s but often not the 30- and 20-somethings.

Besides, most 50-year-olds are not ready to move into senior leagues.

"Absolutely," city recreation supervisor John Carricato said. "They take a lot of pride competing against men younger than them."

Sore muscles don't hurt as much after you defeat someone a decade younger.

"Trust me on that," said Carricato, a 52-year-old runner.

Once most athletes reach 60, many want to compete against athletes their own age so they remain competitive, Carricato said.

The Pikes Peak YMCA and city recreation leagues do not collect data listing participants by age but both have seen an increase in older participation. It is clearer in running races, which divide competitors by age divisions.

"I do see more runners in their 50, 60s and 70s than in years past," said Pikes Peak Marathon Inc. president Ron Ilgen.

For example, in 2004, 281 runners ages 50-59, including 77 women, competed in the Pikes Peak Ascent. In 2014, that age group swelled to 363, including 98 women. Among those ages 60-69, the numbers increased from 61 in 2004 to 130. The increase is likely because many took up running in the 1970s and 80s and have continued to run in competitive races later in life.

Running is not the only way older athletes stay healthy. The senior softball league requires you be 60 while the league also fields a 70-plus traveling team that plays Denver squads regularly. About 120 play each week with another 25 on a waiting list.

The minimum age is 50 for hockey at the Sertich Ice Center and Geezer Open Hockey at Honnen Ice Arena. The events typically draw 20 to 25, which is robust for a sport many do not associate with older athletes.

At the area YMCAs, basketball and racquetball are popular for those 50 or older.

Pickleball, a combination of tennis, badminton and pingpong, draws about 100 players, mostly 50 or older. Badminton is also popular, said Charlotte Waters, YMCA executive director-Healthy Living Strategies.

"People start taking up things they never had time for before," she said. "They can try something they always wanted to do."

The YMCA's Silver Sneakers program has 9,849 participants and also offers Moving for Better Balance classes. About 20,000 of the YMCA's 69,281 members are 50 and older, which includes many military retirees.

Cycling and mountain biking remain popular, golf remains a favorite way to exercise, compete and socialize.

That is good news for the area courses. Memberships, especially for those under 50, have dropped nationwide due to cost and time constraints.

This nationwide graying prompted courses to change to retain older golfers. The recent super senior flight (age 70-plus) at the Springer tournament was a success in its first year, boosting participation from the year before, said Patty Jewett and Valley Hi municipal golf course manager Dal Lockwood.

That interest also showed at the Octogenarian tournament this month with three times the participation from the year before thanks to no entry fees.

Jim Clemans, 89, is happy courses are accommodating older golfers. Between his weekly leagues and Silver Sneakers, he keeps busy.

"Exercise at the Y is good but this (golf) is more about socializing," he said. "I hope to be playing at 90. Who knows, maybe at 100, as long as I can walk up and down the fairway."

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