According to Webster's Dictionary, the word “old” is defined as “having been in use for a long time,” “worn, dilapidated, ancient, or decayed by time.” After an experience as a volunteer at the 1995 St. Louis Senior Olympic games, I may have to give Webster a call.|
On May 28-31, 1995, the Jewish Community Center on Aging in St. Louis held their 16th Annual Senior Olympics. Men and women 55 and older were eligible to compete. There were 1,421 participants from 25 states. More than 60 athletic events were held during the weekend. The oldest participant was 93! Each day proud winners would walk around wearing their bronze, silver, or gold medals.
As seniors in a Master of physical therapy program, we felt volunteering at these games would give us greater insight into our future geriatric patients. We had just completed a course on development throughout the life span. Our attitudes towards older people, we were ashamed to admit, still leaned towards Webster's definition. Our experience at the Senior Olympics permanently changed this ageist attitude.
During the first event of the morning, we served as scorekeepers for the badminton tournament. Badminton is a sport that requires finesse, agility and court-vision. Our attention was immediately drawn to the most energetic player on the court. “Mo,” as her friends called her, was competing in the badminton doubles championship. Her movements resembled those of a skilled athlete. She was particularly aware of the rules of the game and played with true sportsmanship.
Later that morning we found out that Mo was battling brain cancer and her prognosis was not promising. Nevertheless, she was eager to participate in her 12th year of Senior Olympics. She won a gold medal and our respect and admiration for the way she played.
Later in the day, we helped out at the “softball throw for accuracy” event. Before the competition, we helped one gentleman in his warm-up. He said that the competition was the realization of a goal set after undergoing triple bypass surgery. He had a passion for playing the game of baseball and was not about to let the surgery slow him down. He told us he did not have a bad heart, but simply a “new and improved” one. The determination in his eyes certainly killed any notions that motivation was not possible in older people.
In the final analysis, we think Webster should highlight “old” with words such as “courage, wisdom, athletic and perseverance.”