Let the Senior Games begin

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If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get in shape, Sharon Raham of Wellington has a bit of advice: Just do it.

“You’re never too old to be active,” said Raham, 66.

A good place to start is the Fort Collins Senior Center’s Sports Club. That’s where Raham went back in 2001, after she retired from her job as a rural mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. A former physical education teacher who played tennis and other sports in college, she was looking for ways to stay active and have fun. That’s where she discovered the competitive world of the Senior Games, sporting events specifically for older athletes.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but it sounded like fun,” Raham recalled. “I thought, ‘I can run, and maybe jump a little.’”

But then she met coach Tim Edwards. Edwards specializes in throwing sports –- javelin, discus, hammer, all those Olympic sports usually associated with beefy guys who grunt a lot. The petite Raham doesn’t fit the stereotype, but it turns out she is a natural thrower. She got started in the Senior Games, and under Edwards’ instruction, has developed into one of the top national competitors in USA Masters Track and Field. (She no longer runs, because of a bad knee.)

Raham is ranked first in her age division in the 12-pound weight throw, 3-kilo hammer throw and the throws pentathlon, and in the top 5 in triple jump, 3-kilo shot put and 1-kilo discus. She was first in the 400-gram javelin throw until early December.

“Sharon is really strong for her size, and in really great shape,” said Jim Weed, meet director for the regional Rocky Mountain Masters Games held every August at Colorado State University. “She excels in javelin, which is not a sport that is that easy to pick up. Being really big is not necessarily an advantage (in javelin throwing).”

The Senior Games are sponsored by the National Senior Games Association and include all kinds of sports such as archery, bowling, softball and volleyball, as well as track and field. In the Rocky Mountain Senior Games held at Raham’s alma mater the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in June, she placed first in her age bracket in discus, hammer, high jump and long jump, javelin, shot put and weight throw.

Raham said she tries to compete in both the USATF Masters and the Senior Games each year, as well as the Masters meet in Cheyenne. She also occasionally travels to indoor and outdoor meets in other cities, including the Masters Nationals.

Sounds elite. But other than becoming a member of USATF for a $30 annual fee to be covered by insurance, pretty much all you need to compete in the Masters Games is to be over the age of 30 with the desire to participate. (Anyone under 40 is a “submaster.”)

“For the regionals or the nationals, all you have to do is show up that day and pay the entry fee for whatever events you want to compete in,” Weed said.

The entry fee is $25 for the first event, $5 for each additional event, with a maximum fee per meet of $35 — a bargain for multi-sport competitors like Raham. That covers the medals for the top six finishers in each age group, according to Weed, and allows the meet to be self-sustaining without relying on corporate sponsorships.

Weed and Raham agree that the games aren’t super competitive, but they do allow participants to set their fitness goals.

“We have guys who start training just to earn a medal,” Weed said. “Then they want to do better this year than they did last year, or beat the guy who beat them. But you need a goal to improve.”

As the age of the participants increases, the throwing weights decrease and the height of the jumps and hurdles decreases. But there are still competitors in the 85-89 and 90-94 year brackets who have been competing in the Masters Games since they began in 1980.

The social aspect of the games is also important, Raham said, adding that she keeps in touch with competitors throughout the year, not just at meets. Throwers help each other with their technique during competitions, and last year, Raham and her 35-year-old daughter Lindsay competed together at an indoor meet in Albuquerque.

Raham plans to continue competing, and is training for a meet in February. She recommends staying active for people of any age of any fitness level, even if earning a medal isn’t your goal.

“Your first goal should be just to get started,” she said.