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Julia Perez Lopez, Spring 2014

San Diego Senior Olympians prove that being a champion is ageless


Photo by Julia Pérez López

At the age of 59, Ken Stone, a journalist and  blogger, became the oldest 400-meter hurdler in the United States. For him, track and field is more than a hobby.

Ken Stone

Ken Stone anchoring 4×120-yard low hurdle relay at age 15 at the Tustin Relays in Orange County. Photo by Dave Patton.

“Track and field requires discipline and passion. This is a model for life in general,” he said. Stone started sprint racing when he was 9 years old and in 2004, when he turned 50, he started going to the San Diego Senior Olympics.

The San Diego Senior Olympics is the largest senior sports event in California. In 2013, more than 2,000 athletes competed in the games. For the majority of the events the starting age is 50 years old and goes up in increments of five years thereafter.

“It is totally unbelievable that the seniors that participate each year practice year round for our games,” said Karen Brookfield, San Diego Senior Games Association Games Commissioner since 2009. “They bring their families out to watch them try for a gold, silver, or bronze medal. But really, just playing their sport has the most meaning to them. This games help to keep them young.”

“The Senior Olympics give many older athletes the feeling they are in the real Olympics,” Stone said.


MULTIMEDIA: San Diego Senior Olympian Ken Stone describes why he has devoted so much time to track and field.

The history of Senior Olympics

The San Diego Senior Olympics are organized by the San Diego Senior Games Association (SDSGA), a non-profit agency created in 1992. But the history of the event  goes back to 1985, when the National Senior Olympics Association was created. This group of seven people held the first National Senior Olympic Games in 1987 in St. Louis, Missouri.

“I treasure my medals in world and national masters championships and will never part with them,” Stone said.

“I treasure my medals and will never part with them,” Stone said. Photo by Julia Pérez López.

Sam Cohen organized the first San Diego Senior Olympics in 1988. There were nine different sporting events and 143 seniors competed in this the games. Since then, the number of participants has increased every year.

This September will mark the 22nd annual San Diego Senior Olympics held by the SDSGA. In 2011, the month of September was declared Senior Games Recognition Month.

“The meet is often my last competition of the year,” Stone said. “I sometimes run my best times at San Diego Senior Olympics because I’ve had all season to train.”

These Olympics could not take place without the help of the more than 1,000 volunteers, coaches and spectators. “It absolutely makes me feel wonderful to volunteer,” Brookfield said. “We have no paid staff, just people who want to see seniors have a place to play tournaments and stay healthy and fit.”

The biggest challenge for event organizers is fundraising. Most of the money for the Senior Olympics comes from entry fees, donors and sponsors. There are different levels of sponsors depending on the money they donate. “It is very hard because there are so many great causes, and corporations and businesses do not have enough charity donations to give to all,” Brookfield said.

Seniors can choose between 28 different sports

The SDSGA accepts athletes 50 years and older, with no discrimination of gender, ethnicity or disabilities. Some of the sports, such as women’s basketball and volleyball, allow people who are as young as 40 to participate.


The sports of the San Diego Senior Olympics.


Archery and Wheelchair dancing let people of all ages compete:

–  Archery: In 2013, the competitors’ ages ranged from 8 to 69 years old. Brookfield called the competition “a spectacular sight.”

–  Wheelchair dancing: The San Diego Olympics added wheelchair to its sport category in 2014. This year it will be just an exhibition sport, with no competition and people 20 and older invited to participate.

Getting ready for the games

Stone doing Yoga stretching exercises.

“Running at my age reminds me I’m growing old, but I also feel that training for this very strenuous sport makes me healthier,” Stone said. Photo by Julia Pérez López.

Athletes who compete in the San Diego Senior Olympics take the games very seriously because their performance can qualify them for the California State Senior Olympic Games. Each participant has their own exercise schedule with his or her own trainers.

“We try to schedule some workshops for sports, but dealing with volunteer commissioners for each sport is difficult with so many having real paying jobs,” Brookfield said.

Some of the seniors are their own personal trainers. For example, this is Stone’s training routine twice a week. He is getting ready to run the 300-meters hurdles, which are 30 inches high, in this year’s San Diego Senior Olympics.

“I will run as long as I have sight and legs. I will be at the next Senior Olympics and every one thereafter,” Stone said.

What How often / how many
Jogging 10 minutes
Yoga stretching exercises Five minutes
Drills and backwards runs 50 meters
Repeat sprints 100, 150 or 200 meters
Hill runs Six repeats (each one takes 11 seconds)
Pushups Three series of 15
Pull-ups Five

Health goes first

Benefits of exercising for people over 50 years old. It reduces cardiovascular risk and improves functional capacity.
Risks of exercising for people over 50 years old. Before any exercise or anaerobic exercise, itis particularly necessary to get a checkup performed.
How often should people over 50 years old exercise? Three times per week for one hour.
Diseases that can be prevented by exercising. Arterial hypertension (elevated blood pressure in the arteries), dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), diabetes mellitus (high blood sugar), obesity and therefore ischemic heart disease (high risk of heart attack)
Most recommended sports. Aerobic exercises like running, walking, cycling or swimming.
Least recommended sports. Anaerobic exercises like weight lifting.

More than just sports

Apart from the San Diego Senior Olympics, the SDSGA also organizes the Healthy Lifestyle Luncheons at the War Memorial building in Balboa Park. These luncheons are held on the second Friday of every month. “The main goal is to help the seniors maintain physical and mental healthy lifestyles,” said Leonard C. Sonnenberg, Comissioner and Treasurer of the SDSGA for the past five years.

Volunteer opportunities

The SDSGA is looking for help in three different areas.

1.     Spread the word about Volunteer Opportunities.

2.     Look for more “Participants.”

3.     Be a sponsor in their events.

“Working in this organization makes me feel I am helping others enjoy doing senior games as I do,” Sonnenberg said.




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