Naptown’s Finest Set To Conquer The National Senior Games
By Leah Lancione
Cleveland will be hosting the National Senior Games from July 19 to Aug. 1 with more than 14,000 athletes aged 50 and older, including a large and competitive contingent of Marylanders. Athletes will be competing in 19 sports at what is called the largest multisport event in the world. The National Senior Games Association (NSGA) is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to promoting healthy and active lifestyles for athletes age 50 and over.” A recognized multisport organization of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the NSGA is comprised of more than 50 groups that conduct multisport state competitions the year preceding the National Senior Games. The qualifying period for the 2013 National Senior Games ran from Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2012.
The Maryland Senior Olympics (MSO), a qualifier for the National Senior Games, was formed in 1980. The MSO “strives to provide opportunities for everyone, not just gifted athletes (www.mdseniorolympics.org).” The first MSO was held at Towson State University with 300 athletes competing in a one-day event. Executive Director Ted Wroth says the MSO now hosts 1,500-plus athletes in 21 sports and 100 events with many athletes moving on to the nationals.
“Maryland usually has a large presence at the National Senior Games and this year should be good,” Wroth said. He estimates that around 500 athletes who competed in the MSO last August and September will vie for a medal in Cleveland. Wroth did note, however, that not all events that were offered Maryland athletes are part of the national event. For example, line dancing, bass fishing, billiards, disc golf and Frisbee are some of the competitions that aren’t featured at nationals.
Athletes participating in the MSO events adhere to strict criteria and must finish first, second, third or fourth in their event to advance to the National Senior Games. To date, the NSGA has held 13 summer national championships in cities ranging from St. Louis, where it originated the games in 1987, to San Antonio, Pittsburgh, Tucson, Palo Alto, Orlando, Louisville, Houston and now Cleveland.
Included in this biennial competition: archery, badminton, bowling, cycling, golf, horseshoes, pickleball, race walk, racquetball, road race, shuffleboard, swimming, table tennis, track and field, triathlon and the team sports basketball, softball and volleyball.
Nineteen sports are featured in this biennial competition. In each sport, men and women compete in five-year age brackets from 50 to 100. The team events are separated in the following age divisions: 50-plus, 55-plus, 60-plus, 65-plus, 70-plus, and 75-plus, with basketball also including an 80-plus bracket. Age divisions for all doubles and mixed doubles are determined by the younger of the two athletes. Also, participants may enter no more than two individual sports, although they can enter multiple events within a sport. Athlets can also compete in two team sports.
The training leading up to the games is extensive and often goes beyond mere recreation. Athletes prepare with regular exercise, practice with fellow athletes or working with a coach.
The competition will include at least three Annapolis athletes: Russell “Russ” Cesari, Chip Seymour and Darrell Dempster. Cesari and Seymour will heat up the racquetball courts, vying for both singles and doubles medals in their age groups, and Dempster, also a racquetball devotee, will compete in multiple sports.
Cesari, a senior wealth adviser with Northwest Financial Group, trains three to four times per week on the racquetball court and adds strength training to his fitness regime, increasing it for nationals. He says his day job is “intense and time-consuming,” while racquetball similarly requires “focus, quickness and reaction.” He also thinks that participating in the MSO and the nationals keep him active and his mind and body engaged mentally and physically as it affords the opportunity to play against new players.
Cesari, who is the father of two Naval Academy graduates, one of whom is currently the commanding officer of a guided missile destroyer, began his MSO participation in 2012. He won the racquetball gold in singles (65-69 age group) and a doubles gold with partner Chip Seymour.
Seymour, a Naval Academy graduate (class of 1965) and a retired Navy captain, plays racquetball a minimum of five days a week at the academy, where he is also a tour guide. Seymour admits relishing the ample racquetball talent there since many on staff are former or current academy athletic coaches — and are younger. He confesses they present “quite a workout.”
The MSO has a motto that “To participate is to win.” Though he sincerely respects this creed, as an athlete who is competitive by nature, he doesn’t mind winning either. In 2009, his first year of participation at the MSO, he won the gold medal in singles (65-69 age group) and a bronze in doubles (65-69 age group) with Darrell Dempster as his partner.
The 2012 MSO event for racquetball, the qualifier for this year’s National Senior Games, was held at the Severna Park Racquetball and Fitness Club. Seymour took the gold in singles (70-74 age group) and the gold in doubles (65-69 age group) with Cesari. The two men once again look well-prepared for the national games. Along the way, they have encouraged other seniors to stay active in a sport as long as health permits – whether or not they are superior athletes.
DOING IT ALL
According to the medical website WebMD (www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/getting-fit-life), “exercise can help older people feel better and enjoy life more.” Furthermore, “regular exercise can prevent or delay some diseases like cancer, heart disease or diabetes.”
Seymour also credits fellow athlete and “role model” Darrell Dempster for inspiring him to pursue racquetball at the MSO in 2009 as his doubles partner. Impressed that at 84 Dempster is still a multisport athlete (winning several Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in javelin, shot put, discus, hammer throw, weight throw, long jump, standing long jump, triple jump and race walk), Seymour is also moved by his significant volunteer work in addition to being a retired Navy captain and Naval Academy graduate (class of 1953).
In 2012, Dempster took gold in singles (80-84 age group) at the MSO and will compete in both singles and doubles at the National Senior Games this Summer. He began competing in the MSO in 2005 at the age of 74. Earning a gold medal in racquetball in his age bracket every year since 2005 as well as a gold in doubles (80-84 age group) in 2010 and 2012, Dempster has definitely made his mark. At the 2009 nationals he won silver for racquetball in doubles (70-75 age group) and 5th in singles (80-84 age group) as well as 5th for hammer throw and 9th for discus.
Darrell tries to incorporate occasional weight training in his workout regime in addition to playing racquetball and training with one of the Naval Academy’s women’s track coaches—taking full advantage of tips for improving his distances.
Dempster admits, “the hammer and weight throws are my best events so I spend a little more time on them, trying to achieve a personal best.” He also participates in the U.S. Masters and Potomac Valley Track Club events to stay active throughout the year.
While Dempster has many medals and wins to be proud of, it’s not completely about the results but the journey that keeps his body in shape and his mind sharp. A true athlete and lifelong fitness enthusiast, he proves that staying active, whether in organized sports or a recreational hobby, leads to better health, friendships and continued ambition!
So, athletes, exercise enthusiasts or even sportsmen in “hiatus,” if you want to take your hobby to the next level or simple get more active, check out the MSO. As Executive Director Ted Wroth says, “MSO provides alternative sports and opportunities for seniors who live independently or in retirement communities. We are striving every year to increase our participation by adding activities to get seniors up and moving.”