Victories of the Spirit
in St. Louis, 3,500 athletes over 55 go for the gold.
August 27, 1989

GEORGE M. RICHARDS, 82, at the start of the 100-yard dash.

BOB ACKERMAN, 60, and MARY NORCKAUER, 64, won medals in 11 events.

With the second national senior olympics coming up, Tony B. Quici decided he'd better get rolling. So back in May, the 64‑year‑old retired Air Force jet mechanic hopped on his bicycle and began pedaling the 1,403 miles from his home in Roswell, N.M., to St. Louis, the site of the games. Twenty days later, he pulled into town, ready to compete, complaining that he would have made better time, but "it rained all the way from eastern Texas to just east of Joplin, Mo."

Quici failed to take home a medal, but no matter. At the senior level, few competitors dwell on the agony of defeat. "I bring up the rear," said 79‑year‑old Arda Perkins, a blind race‑walker from Dearborn, Mich. "I don't care about winning a medal. I love the excitement and the people."

Senior games were first held 20 years ago in Los Angeles, but it was not until 1987 that a contest was organized by the United States National Senior Olympics, a nonprofit group that promotes senior citizen fitness and health. The games are now a biennial event for which athletes qualify by competing in local contests. (Foreigners are welcome.)

This year, about 3,500 athletes 55 and up converged on St. Louis from 47 states, Puerto Rico and three foreign countries to compete in 14 sports, from archery to volleyball. The oldest male contestant was Guy Sibley, 91; the oldest woman was Mary Hilliard, 87.

CATHERINE CRESS, 79, loosens up for a swimming meet.

Perhaps the most unusual participant was Mary Martin Weaver, 64, a Dominican nun from Northglenn, Colo., who did the five-kilometer race‑walk wearing her habit, rosary swinging at her side. A keen ice‑hockey player, she took up figure skating at 52. Her next sport? "I'm going to go into javelin throwing. Someone showed me how to do it yesterday and after a couple of tries, I did well. Yes, definitely the javelin."

JOHN S. PHILLIPS, 79, cyclist.

HAROLD TSCHANTZ, 78, gold medalist in the discus.