Begun in 1987, the biennial event in the United States is comprised of 19 sports including archery, 3-on-3 half court basketball, track and field, shuffleboard, and horseshoes. It is the largest multi-sport event in the world for seniors.
In 1985, a group of seven men and women in St. Louis formed the National Senior Olympics Organization as a way to promote healthy lifestyles for adults through education, fitness, and sports. That fall the NSOO hosted a group of individuals who were holding events for seniors across 33 states and an idea to conduct the first National Senior Olympic Games was born. Held in St. Louis, some 2,500 athletes participated in 15 sports at the inaugural Games.
Since then, nearly 10,000 athletes have participated in the games every two years in locations including Orlando, Fla., Syracuse, N.Y., and Cleveland. The 2017 National Senior Games will be held in Birmingham, Ala., from June 2-15. The 2019 Games are set for Albuquerque, N.M.
Participants not only have to meet the age minimum, but they have to qualify through state-sanctioned events in order to compete in the national games. Once they qualify for the National Senior Games, they are grouped by age in five-year increments beginning at 50 and ending at 100-plus.
Lee Stadem, a tennis and table tennis player from South Dakota, is one of eight athletes who have participated in every National Senior Games since its inception 30 years ago. Stadem, 89, plays tennis three times per week and table tennis two or three times a week. He also remains active by hunting.
“Even though winning is not the main reason to stay active, if we’re going to compete, we need to stay in shape,” Stadem says. “Regular exercise is very important in our lives. When (my wife) Liz and I go to a church event and they’re having a volleyball game, we don’t get all stiff and can enjoy participating.”
Stadem says younger people are surprised he remains so active.
“People say it’s great that we can still do all of this,” he says. “I believe we are setting an example. Everyone doing this is setting an example.”
2017 National Senior Games by the Numbers
— 10,517 total athletes (55 percent male)
— 1,997 athletes are between 65-69 years old
— 122 athletes are 90-100+
— Largest sport participation is basketball with 1,531 athletes
— Horseshoes is the smallest field with 124 participants
— Participants hail from all 50 states
— The most represented states are Tennessee (1,033), Florida (866) and Ohio (642)
— Montana and South Dakota have the least amount of athletes with five apiece
— Minnesota athletes won the most medals at the 2015 Games (437 = 191 gold, 122 silver, 124 bronze)