I’ve been with the Washington State Senior Games (WSSG) for nearly 20 years. In that time, I’ve done nearly every task you can do to help an annual event that attracts 2,000 senior athletes from all over Washington, as well as many other western states and Canada.
The WSSG is the single largest gathering of people aged 50 and older in Washington, and it is one of the biggest economic “splashes” in the state capitol region every year, generating about $1.2 million dollars spent on local food, motels, and “retail trophies” such as T-shirts and artwork depicting Olympia.
As great as the Games are, the general view of outsiders––that is, non-competing older adults—is that the Games are for the “elite,” the strongest, fastest, and best athletes in the state.
“What chance do I have of competing against them?” is quite likely the thought going through your head right now if you’ve gotten this far with my article.
Guess what? I’m going to show you a way to show up and win, and you won’t have to train, register, pay a fee, or do anything special to be a part of the 2022 Senior Games.
No doubt, earning a gold medal is a big “high” when you win one at the Senior Games.
But you know what? You can spend a solid four hours placing bronze, silver, and gold medals over the grateful, bowed heads of Washington’s top senior athletes, and feel pretty darn good yourself. You’ll shake their hands, meet their family members, and hear from many athletes, at arms’ length, just how close it was at the finish line, and how they feel about their accomplishment.
You’ll think you’re in the dugout of a World Series team.
Every year the Senior Games needs volunteers to pass out medals at nearly three dozen events. I take photos at some of these events, and the smiles on athletes’ faces make perfect, powerful trophies for me and for them when I post those images later on social media.
Talk about tears of joy! Athletes’ children and grandchildren go nuts when those photos get posted.
The photo of the man with the blue shirt, holding the discus, is Leonard Krause. Leonard is 101 years old. Last year, at 100, he set four state records, and he and his children and spouses had the time of their lives, all wearing “Team Krause: 100 Years Old and Still Going Strong” T-shirts.
We had a moment where a 10-year-old boy, Ryder, came over to present Leonard with his medals. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime photo I was able to capture!
Are you good with a camera? We could use more photographers at more events.
Our volunteers also work the registration tables, set up chairs and booths, serve Starbucks coffee (yum—all you can drink), hand out cold water bottles, or chase wayward javelins, footballs, softballs, discus, and other items at our many throwing events.
You’ll meet other fine people and have more fun in one day than you might otherwise have in an entire month.
Attend and observe
This is so simple, why didn’t you think of it before?
Many sports events, both indoor and outdoor, have spectator seating. Track and Field, for instance, has Tumwater High School Stadium to keep you shaded and cool while watching athletes aged 50–90 race, jump, throw, and compete against each other.
Basketball and volleyball also have indoor “gymnasium-style” seating. If you watch our bowling tournament, you can sit back, relax, and have a burger and beer.
The point I’m making is all events are FREE to attend and enjoy. Shuffleboard takes place at the Little Creek Casino.
If you were the high school “slugger” when you played baseball all those many years ago, why not check out the level of competition at this year’s softball tournament in Shelton? Relax with a picnic lunch and see which team you might want to audition for next year.
Feel free to spy on any sport! Both volunteering and observing are “fail safe” ways to approach any sport you might want to compete in later.
Scholarships to compete
Lastly, if you want to sign up and compete but are currently short on funds, the Washington State Senior Games has a little-known (and hardly used) scholarship fund to pay for any athlete’s registration. The scholarship fund was set up to help “first time” athletes try the Games and join in the fun. It can cover your $35 registration fee, and may, in some cases, cover the $10 per-sport fee for those who participate in more than one sport.
The lesson to take away is this: NEVER let a lack of money be your reason to not compete in the Senior Games.
And like I said about observing or volunteering, you don’t have to compete to have a whale of a time!
Our giant, multi-sport Track and Field competition takes place on Saturday, July 23, this year at Tumwater High School Stadium, beginning at 8:00 a.m. People of all ages fill the stands to cheer athletes on.
Check out WashingtonStateSeniorGames.com to see a full listing of all events and learn how you may volunteer. Photographers, please put “Photo Taker” somewhere in your message or subject line. Or call 360-413-0148 and a real, live senior athlete will either pick up or call you back with the information or help you need.
Contributor Mark Woytowich is a writer, photographer, video producer, and author of “Where Waterfalls and Wild Things Are.” He lives along Highway 101 on Hood Canal.
All photos courtesy of Mark Woyotowich.