Running to Recover
by Matt Oleszczak - Photo by Zachary A.M. Kelly
Although she had no prior experience with running, Kathy Sueoka, at 55, got started six years ago and quickly progressed to winning national races. But it all came to a crashing halt in February 2012, when Sueoka, while training at the gym, felt sudden, sharp pain in her head. Her husband Ben, an interventional radiologist, quickly rushed her to the hospital for a CAT scan. When he saw the results, she vividly remembers him saying, “Don’t be scared, but there’s a lot of blood in your head right now.”
Sueoka had suffered a stroke. She became confined to her bed instead of the gym. Simply walking became difficult as symptoms affecting her muscles and coordination interfered. Ben wouldn’t let her give up, and said he “would drag her around the neighborhood to get her moving again.” He explained how walking is vital for stroke recovery, helping to retrain brain circuitry and with blood oxidation.
Patience and persistence has carried the day for Sueoka. After completing a 5K at the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana on Monday, she said, “It’s almost like the stroke didn’t happen. It’s surreal.” Thinking back on her recovery process makes her appreciate how far she’s come to participate in the biggest competitive race she’s ever been in and has her muscles back.
The now 61-year-old runner from Beaumont, Texas keeps up her training with her husband, who also participated in the 5K road race at The Games. Ben finished at the 28:03 mark while Kathy came in at 29:08. “I usually beat him, but he beat me today,” she said.
While Kathy was amazed by the performance of her competitors, she serves as a source of inspiration as well. She said, “This is something you have to try. Life is short, it’s getting shorter. You’ve got to have challenges to keep you going.”
Seniors Dive Into The Competition
by Andrew Ruffing - Photo by Rick Rickman
Athletes participating in the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana arrived Monday morning at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center to challenge themselves and others in swimming.
On this day, senior athletes performed backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly stroke. Many athletes were aiming for awards. James Porter, 66, of Cincinnati, Ohio said his goal was “to try and at least get a ribbon.”
Others were hoping to become better swimmers. 63-year-old Barbara Church from Allen Park, Michigan said one of her goals was to get better times because she is recovering from shoulder surgery. She said her goal is to try to get the times she got when she was younger, “but realistically you know you’re not going to do those times.” Church still swam for a perfect six out of the six gold medals she also competed for in the last National Senior Games, and was proud to break three of her own records.
Many athletes attempted to beat records in The Games, including their own personal best times. Church’s friend Melinda Mann, 59, of Oskosh, Wisconsin, broke four of The Games records, even though 2015 is her first year to compete in them. Mann said her goal was “to try to swim as best as I could, and to see friends.”
If her new career as a swimmer in the Senior Games Movement follows the common stream of veteran athletes, Mann will find many new friends in the years to come.
Arrows of a Feather Flock Together
How archery unites family and strangers alike
by Matt Oleszczak
Janet Lenius feared it was game over for her on Sunday at the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana.
“I thought I was going to be out of the game,” she recalls. Lenius, 55, from Minneapolis competes in the women’s 50-54 bracket for compound release archery. Her progress in The Games was put at risk when her bow became unstrung. You can’t use an unstrung bow.
“It was a miracle that John had a bow press,” she said, speaking of John Gauger’s tool for replacing strings and cables. Gauger comes prepared: “I keep a box of tools in case stuff happens.”
Gauger, 70, from The Villages, Florida was there to spot for a friend. Gauger himself is a finger style archer and will be competing starting today at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights.
Sticking together has become a running theme of the sport. Cyndee Wilkinson, 54, of Saline, Michigan said, “It’s like a big family.” She thinks of her competitor, Julie Shaver, 53, of Rochester, New York as family of sorts, in addition to her husband, Don Wilkinson. Do competes in The Games and taught her how to play just two years ago. In the short span since, Cyndee has won eight championships and set a new state record.
Archery similarly runs in the Button family. Jeff Button, 52, of Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, first learned the sport when he was five years old. It was not surprising he would take it up, since his parents owned an archery business. And it helped that his mother held the title of state champion in the late 60’s.
The bow-and-arrow legacy continues with Button’s children, as they were also taught the sport at the ripe age of five. Admiring the ability of archery to cross generations, Jeff said, “It’s neat to see everyone from 5-year-olds to 70-, 80-, 90-year-olds at tournaments like this.”
3 Questions - Ellen Traks, 62, New Jersey Competing in Softball
What’s your first impression of Minnesota? What do you want to see while you’re here?
It’s my first time here. Everyone’s very friendly and it’s a beautiful state. I want to go to the Mall of America.
What’s so special at National Senior Games for you?
The experience. To compete with individuals your age that are so fit and interested in athletics is great.
What’s the greatest benefit you get from being a senior athlete?
The camaraderie and it helps keep me young!
Tennis: Five Times The Fun For Farley
by Eric Todd - Pictured Athletes Terry Farley and Ed Kokkila
It was a wet and soggy morning on the first Monday of the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana, but spirits were not dampened inside the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center. Athletes from around the country competed in singles matches this morning, not needing to be mindful of the weather outside.
Linda Farley, from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, loves cheering on her husband, Terry Farley, to victory. Farley defeated Minnesotan Ed Kokkila of Coon Rapids in the men’s singles ages 60 to 64 category. “It is always nice to get a victory, but nothing is for granted. I had to play hard,” Farley said.
An avid tennis player since the age of 14, Farley is now in his fifth Senior Games. Farley fondly recalls one of his first memories of the games. While staying at a hotel in Pittsburgh, Farley said, “I pushed the elevator button and out of the elevator comes all these gray haired women and a couple of gray haired guys all about 6’3” or 6’4. I thought these must be the senior basketball and volleyball players. It was a very unique sight to see.”
Farley tells lots of his friends about the Senior Games, but says in jest, “I don’t want to recruit the ones that are better than I am.”
Brothers Share a Badminton Bond
by Joey Erickson
Brothers Chris and Stephen Frei have played badminton together since their childhood, and now they find themselves hitting the birdie as senior athletes in the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana.
They grew up in St. Louis playing on a court they marked in their driveway and continued playing through high school. Then their professional lives took over.
The two began working full time, Stephen as a chemical engineer and Chris in an old family stained glass business, and did not have as much time to devote to playing.
How they schedule three or four tournaments a year to play as a doubles team. They also spend one week a year to train: they practice badminton for a few days and devote a few other days to outdoor activities such as climbing mountains. In the cities they visit for competitions they enjoy visiting zoos or museums on their non-competition days.
Chris likes to joke a bit about how they are perceived by the other badminton players. “We’re picking up a fan club here. We’ve got kind of a following because we look alike and we don’t play normal. Everyone else is smooth and we’re just helter-skelter, all over everywhere. We have kind of a traveling group. When they need a good laugh they watch us play.”