Older athletes set to rock at Wine Country Senior Games
More than 1,600 expected to vie for glory in 17 sporting events
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By Kaydon Coburn  May 10, 2013 12:00 am


An athlete’s peak years are short compared to their overall lifespan, but the spirit of competition and the love of athletics endure for many 50-plus aged participants in this year’s upcoming Sonoma Wine Country Senior Games.

Athletes 50 years and older will compete May 30-June 9 in 17 sporting events throughout Sonoma County, including archery, swimming, soccer, basketball, 5K/10K run-5K walk (same day registration), tennis, bocce ball, golf, square dancing, cycling, table tennis, pickleball, volleyball, softball and, new for 2013: horseshoes.

“People feel like maybe they have been forgotten as far as those (sports) activities,” says Amy Crabb, event coordinator for the Senior Games, and development manager for the Sonoma Council on Aging, which is organizing the games.

“We (society) focus a lot on kids, which I think is very important, but it’s really important for people to stay active as they age,” Crabb said. 

“Staying active allows us to have that “say” in how we’re going to age and what out lives are going to look like for the second half.” 

Motivating factors

Crabb sees a combination of factors that motivate the senior athletes. 

“Some of the athletes are driven by competition,” she said. “Other athletes want a new challenge in life… empty nesters… get in shape.” 

“If I wasn’t doing this, what would I be doing?” says basketball player Fred de Santo. “I am constantly learning about myself as a player and enjoy the supportive atmosphere the Senior Games presents. We compete, but the social benefit is enormous…as well as skill improvement.”

Competing in a local event for training, runner Michelena DeMaria discovered she is keeping up as she ages with the times she has previously set. 

“I have captured the inner athlete, beyond what my body can deliver, and I couldn’t have done it without the spirit of competition at the Senior Games,” said DeMaria.

The inaugural Wine Country Games in 2011 included six events, with almost 500 participants and 100 volunteers. The 2013 games now offer 17 sports and an estimated 1,600 athletes are expected for this year’s event. The Doubletree by Hilton in Rohnert Park will serve as the “host village” and social center for out-of-town athletes.

Athletes from other countries will be competing at venues throughout Sonoma County. “We really want to showcase Sonoma County,” Crabb said. “Soccer teams are arriving from Hawaii, swimmers from Australia and Canada.”

Approximately 50 percent of the participants come from Sonoma County, according to Crabb. Sporting venues will range north to Windsor and south to Petaluma. Rohnert Park will host soccer and volleyball at Sonoma State University, table tennis at Mountain Shadows Educational Center, softball at Magnolia Park, and square dancing will be held at the Penngrove Clubhouse.

Inspiration for games

The inspiration to bring the Senior Games to the Sonoma Council On Aging came when former manager of development, Stephanie Domenchelli, attended the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, an international senior sports competition that brings in as many as 10,000 athletes and 4,000 visitors each year. 

“She was charged with trying to figure out a way to reach seniors at an earlier age…time in the aging process,” Crabb said.

The Senior Games also is a national event that began in 1985 when a small group met to plan the first National Senior Olympic Games. The games were held in 1987 in St. Louis and drew 2,500 athletes. The second national event happened two years later and brought in 3,500 athletes. Today, the Senior Games take place in various cities across the country. “We have a new generation of those 50 plus,” Crabb said about the growing senior population.

Winners and qualifiers at the local games may advance to state championships, which are held in even-numbered years. State championships will be in San Diego, and state winners and qualifiers may advance to the national championships, which are held in odd-numbered years. This year’s event is being held in Cleveland.

The Council on Aging is grateful for committed sponsors of the games, and Crabb envisions the day when the games act as a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization.

“We can’t do the games without sponsors. The fees the athletes pay do not cover the entire cost. Kaiser (Permanente) and St. Joseph (Hospital) have been with us from day one,” she said.

The general public is welcome at all of the events. Athlete registration deadline is May 17. For more information, to register or volunteer for the game go to www.winecountrygames.com.


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