AK: Silver-haired Haines athletes go for gold

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

Competitors in Haines are gearing up for the National Senior Games. The golden years are no time to slow down–they’re a time to bring home gold medals.

It’s a brilliant day on the track field and most of the snow is gone on Mount Ripinsky. Fifty-nine-year-old Connie Ward is glowing with exertion in the evening light. She launches a discus. It sails through the air, setting a new personal best for Ward.

 “Seventy-two feet, three 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 rolls up the huge tape measure she used to log the throws. Some high schoolers have already left the track for the night, but Ward and Nash have 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 spokesman 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 short-changing yourself.’” he said.

Moon says 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: 30 percent are over-65. That makes this Southeast borough the oldest population in Alaska and older than average nationwide.

Nash has broken barriers on the track 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! I was pretty sure I could sprint at my age.”

Connie 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 from June 14th to 25th. These boomers hope to have precious metal souvenirs when they return from sunny Albuquerque.