Linda and Paul Cory bought some property in the mountains many years ago a couple miles outside Cripple Creek. It would be a nice place to retire. There may have been a time when they considered that.
But Linda took a retirement buyout from Kodak, at 55, and was looking for something to do. She looked into a senior softball team because that always was her favorite sport. She played it in college. She was pleasantly surprised at all the older people still wanting to play.
That was the start, in 2004, of how Linda moved from a sedentary lifestyle, a side effect from her job, to lifting and pilates and biking and shooting and an addiction to badminton and pickle ball, which her husband, who retired in 2010 and is now 62, travels with her to play. She’s a big participant in the Rocky Mountain Senior Games as well.
“It’s not the Olympics,” Linda, 65, said of all her activity, including the games, “but you know, it keeps you going, and you want to do well.
“I can’t believe how many people I’ve met in my later years, and I can’t believe how busy I am now. I think we’re having a great retirement.”
Sports don’t have to end when you’re old enough for the senior discount. In fact, there’s a number of residents who are active well into their 60s and 70s. Some even discover their athletic side after age 50.
This crowd includes several senior women who have more opportunity now than they ever did as girls.
Ann Norman, 60, of Greeley grew up in a small town, LaPorte, Ind., before Title I mandated gender equality in sports. She grew up watching her brothers play baseball. She wanted to play, too, but there was no way to do so. When she got older, Title I was around, but she was raising kids, and then taking care of her mother. When her mother died in 2009, she found she still had the desire to play, and now she had the time. She started with softball.
“One thing led to another,” said Norman, who now plays pickle ball and is a regular in the Senior Games as both a ref and a participant, and so is her husband, Doug.
Norman takes a weightlifting class through Weld County twice a week and half-jokingly calls her athletics a “full-time job.”
“I like to feel that good kind of pain now,” Norman said. “When you can hardly move after those weights, oh boy. At least you know you’re alive.”
There’s a growing number of active, older adults who don’t want to be called “senior citizens,” even if, technically, they are, said Holly Darby, wellness coordinator for the Weld County Area Agency on Aging.
Darby teaches and helps run the Strong People 12-week classes designed for senior, er, older athletes. The classes were developed by universities to increase strength, balance and bone density and were originally called Strong Women and offered by Colorado State University. When CSU dropped it because of budget cuts, Weld County took over.
Darby doesn’t see much difference between older athletes and the younger ones, and many of the same rules apply for both. There’s no doubt that a fit older athlete is in much better shape than a sedentary, younger person.
“They show me up all the time,” said Darby, who is in her late 30s and fit.
Even with the growth in opportunities for senior athletes, the Rocky Mountain Senior Games has a tougher time attracting 50-year-olds to compete. The Colorado chapter of the games and the one based in Greeley since the early 1990s has no trouble attracting older seniors, but that’s part of the issue. Many 50-year-olds think the games aren’t for them. Part of the stigma of being a “senior citizen” is another reason.
“People think that the games are just for ‘old’ people,” said Sheri Lobmeyer, program manager at the Greeley Senior Activity Center, who also organizes the games. “But the games are for those younger seniors. In fact, we need them.”
That’s understandable in a sense, given that the media tends to focus on the occasional 90-year-old rather than the bulk of the seniors because it’s a cute story. Plus the Senior Center offers workshops such as “Bossy Bladder” along with shuffleboard and pool.
But the center also offers fitness classes and workshops. Sure, some of those could draw a smirk, such as how to compete with a hip replacement, but many aren’t much different than the classes offered at a gym, such as the ones Darby teaches.
When the games do get groups of 50-year-olds, they can be pretty darn competitive. Those who finish in the top three at the games here qualify for the national senior games. The games in Colorado are so competitive that some will travel to another state, such as Wyoming, to qualify. The games offers more than 25 events in something as mild as a Frisbee Toss or as demanding as a 10K, swimming or weight lifting.
“I love it when the UNC students help with an event, and you can see the surprise in their face,” Lobmeyer said. “You can tell they’re, like, ‘Whoa, they’re still running at that speed?’”
They may be talking about Mark Collins, 73, of Greeley. He began running when he was 43 after his son joined a running club when he was a fifth-grader. He ran with him and continued after his son’s season was over.
Collins came to Greeley in 2003 and began running with the Bells Running group, which emphasizes speed work and other ways to get faster. Collins was 63 when he tried the training and liked it. Now he’s one of the top local runners in his age group.
“I’m in better shape now than I was before I ran with the Bells group,” he said. “It just feels better running. I’m more comfortable.”
Collins enjoys being one of the better runners in his age group, but he also enjoys getting out there.
“I’m not as competitive as some of the people in the running group,” he said. “But I’m still a little competitive.”
So is Linda Cory. The Senior Games keep her motivated throughout the year. But she’s having so much fun, she’s sometimes amazed at how much being active has changed her life.
“You know,” Cory said, “sometimes I forget I’m old.”