Competition Connects

The+Senior+Games+are+made+up+of+competitors%2C+whose+ages+range+from+50+and+older.+

Isabella Weiner

The Senior Games are made up of competitors, whose ages range from 50 and older.

Isabella Weiner, Staff Reporter

What are the Senior Games? When I first heard about them being hosted at Holy Trinity December 12-13, I pictured a gathering of leisurely walkers from the local park. However, what I found was a competition of inspiring athletes from all over the country.

As a National Senior Games qualifying competition, athletes traveled to Melbourne from throughout the country, including Texas, Wisconsin, and even Washington, ranging from age 50 to 96. They competed in various track and field events: the 5000m and 1500m power walk, 5000m and 1500m race walk, 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, javelin, discus, high jump, pole vault, shot put, long jump, and triple jump. Watching from the sign-in tent, some greeted old friends with laughs, while others remained keenly focused on warming up for their events. Various people of various ages from various places, yet all shared the same passion and determination to compete.

During the 1500m walk, a woman stumbled and went down on the track. Spectators on the sidelines and athletes warming up on the infield all offered encouragement, yet connected by that same drive, shouted not to touch her so that she wouldn’t be disqualified. With men on the infield spotting her, the woman slowly rose up to her feet and immediately continued forwards, cheers sounding behind. 

Later, during the 100m dash, cheers erupted again as a 96-year-old man set an age group record with a time of 1:11.80. Throughout his race, he never slowed down, eyes fixed on the finish, just as much a competitor as anyone else at the meet.

Inspiration didn’t just come from acts of perseverance, though, with some athletes setting impressive times and proving that you’re never too old to push yourself or to try new things. Lionel Bonck, serving as a race official at the meet, had run in school before serving in the Air Force for 27 years, then picked up running again with his daughter and as a cross country coach.

“I got the bug again,” Bonck said. 

Now, he has held or does hold all the over 50-79 age group state records in the 400m. And while injury prevented him from competing this year, next year he plans to go for setting the over 80 record.

Officiating all across the country and even in Canada, Bonck has made connections with athletes that he’s competed against for 30 years. 

“It’s got a lot to do with camaraderie too, as well as competition. My only problem is that I have this thing about not being cannon fodder for anybody. So I guess maybe I’ve trained a little more than some of these folks out here,” Bonck said.

April Flynn ran the 800m with a time of 2:44.91 and the 1500m with a time of 5:38.65, both extremely impressive times for any runner, especially as a runner myself. A lifelong runner, Flynn had decided to try short-distance after marathon cancellations, buying a book to teach herself how to become a stronger sprinter.

“I’m going to just take a change, I’m going to start lifting more weights, which I never did while I was in cross country, I’m going to try to make my body strong, and I’m going to try to do sprints,” Flynn said.

Flynn discovered new personal strength, saying “If it wasn’t for COVID, I would’ve just started doing meets and I would’ve run marathons and I would’ve never reflected, so I think the lesson at this age would be…reflect on what your strength is… and then go with it.”

Although, Flynn was very nervous before her races, “I was scared to death,” she said, “and I thought ‘I’m going to face plant.’” Instead, she finished first in both her events, proving that it’s never too late to try something new.

Though, Flynn always loved running, seeing it as a sort of meditation and a tool to get through the hardest times in her life. She remembers during a tough moment being told by her dad, “Go put your shoes on and go for a run, because that’s who you are.”

For Flynn, “This isn’t just a race, it’s life,” and for myself and all the athletes who had all either come back to running or never left, it connected us all.