View photos of the action from today's competition here.
The First: Tennessee Triathlete Tackles Terrain for Top Time
In the pristine natural settings of Oak Mountain Park, 52-year-old Mike Stacks leapt into the early morning chilly waters of Double Oak Lake for the swimming leg of triathlon competition for the 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana.
He never looked back, chewing up hills and curves in the cycling and running segments, and powered through the finish arch minutes ahead of the next competitor. While the rest of the pack saw challenges, Mike felt right at home.
“I live in Birchwood, Tennessee, near Chattanooga,” he drawls. “I ride and run the same kind of hills every day when I train. I think I might even do better on this kind of course than on flat land.”
One could almost hear the collective groans of all the other competitors in the distance.
Mike is hardly a household name in the triathlon world, having gotten interested in finding ways to stay fit after losing 55 pounds and giving up years of smoking and smokeless tobacco. “I was a pretty good athlete in school, but like most folks I got away from it and started doing nothing and gaining weight,” he recalls. “My idea of exercise was push mowing the yard.”
Mountain biking led to some running, and that led to swimming. A triathlete was born.
However, it was not an easy road. “I remember the first time I started running, I couldn’t do a half mile without stopping. The first time I swam, I went 25 yards and said ‘There’s no way I can do this, absolutely no way.’ I thought I was drowning and couldn’t breathe,” he explains.
Once he found his legs, Mike has steadily progressed over the past few years, completing one Ironman challenge, three half marathons, several sprint events,and now, a dominating gold medal performance and a top time in the National Senior Games. Mike is humbled and inspired by the experience.
“I’m one of the babies. This is my first one!” he says with a touch of disbelief. “It’s inspiring to see 70, 80, 90-year-old people doing this. They’re so full of spirit, and everybody just looks good. They’re happy, they don’t quit, they’re helping each other. That’s what it’s all about right there.”
Mike surveys the rest of the field crossing the line. “They give me inspiration to keep going,” he concludes. “The Lord has blessed me. I give Him all the glory.”
By: Del Moon
Games Daily Recap
Last But Not Least: Former Governor Reflects on Challenging Day
Adversities can limit us if we let them, but Frank Farrar, 88, is a man who won’t be beaten by a challenge. As evidence, Frank tells us he has completed approximately 360 triathlons, including 36 Ironman competitions. (An Ironman is a gruelling 141-mile event consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike, followed by a full marathon.)
Sunday’s National Senior Games triathlon proved to be a challenge for the former Governor of South Dakota. Oak Mountain’s steep hills added an extra element for all competitors. Deciding to leave his own bike at home, he rented one that he noticed wasn’t shifting correctly.
Frank turned out to be the last to finish the race by a long measure of time, but to him, finishing is most important. Besides, as the oldest person to enter the race, and the only one in his 85-89 age division, no one attending doubted that he deserved to stand on the podium and receive a gold medal.
“I can do them all, if they can just wait for me,” Frank laughs, noting that he is typically the oldest man in the race. Characteristically, Frank recognized the community and organization and sponsors that help make possible the event he loves so much.
Hard work and determination are the reasons for his success. In 1984, Frank, an avid biker and runner, was convinced by his son to enter triathlons. While training Frank received news that changed his path entirely: he was diagnosed with malignant lymphoma and doctors gave him two months to live. Determined to live his life to the fullest, Frank returned to triathlons while undergoing chemotherapy. After six months, he was miraculously in remission.
“It was the exercise that saved my life,” he says. “But exercise does not lose weight-only a healthy diet can do that.” From first hand experience, he believes exercise is an upper, calling it life’s natural medicine. His training consist of weight lifting, biking and running, which he takes indoors during the cold winter months in South Dakota.
“We all have our problems,” Frank advises. “If you get mad, upset or whatever, take a walk around the block and it will go away.” The triathlete has numerous goals for his future, including a hope to live past 100.
“Keep it up,and you’ll live to be as old as me,” he says. “I’m never gonna quit until I can’t make it.”
By: Caroline Watt and Del Moon
Olympian Earns First National Senior Games Medal
After taking fifth place in the 1500 meter race at Samford Stadium on Sunday, Tom Lough of Round Rock, Texas was still pleased with his performance. “You’ve got to be satisfied just to be able to get out on the track as a competitor, and to be there with a mindset, and to be with other competitors.”
Tom has been among the very best of competitors, having represented the United States in the Modern Pentathlon during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, placing well in an event that few Americans have medaled in. As he details in his fascinating 2016 NSGA Personal Best athlete profile, Tom found the opportunity when his superiors at West Point recognized his raw talent and suggested he spend time in San Antonio training with the U.S. team. He almost didn’t get to compete due to a training injury. He also almost didn’t come home from Vietnam a year after the Olympics when his helicopter was shot down over Hamburger Hill.
The Virginia native never considered himself an elite athlete, and his interest in joining National Senior Games in 2007 was to have an enjoyable means to maintain his fitness and to measure himself with others of his age. The 800- and 1500-meter track runs suited Tom for the mission, but one thing or another seemed to dog his ability to perform at his potential through six trips to National Senior Games.
Saturday, Tom Lough finally put it all together and earned a silver medal in the Men’s 70-74 800 meter race, his first of any color in The Games.
As Tom processes his win, a smile begins to spread across his face. “This is the first Senior Games in a long time that everything has been working,” he explains. “My pacemaker is working; I don’t have any strain or sprain, or ruptured muscles or tendons. My cancer is in remission, so I might as well get out here and do it. It’s wonderful, it’s fabulous!”
On hand at the 1500 race was a communications team from the region’s Army Reserves who were collecting interviews for a post article about Senior Games veterans. They hit the jackpot when they found Tom. He passed on a bit of information to the young sergeant who sat across from him: “When you’re in the Army, you’re probably in the best shape you’ll ever be in in your life. Don’t just get in shape. Learn how to get in shape so that when you get out you can keep on keepin’ on.”
Tom also shared his experiences from a Purple Heart Honor Flight to Washington D.C. last month. “It was over Memorial Day weekend so it was doubly special,” he says solemnly. “I was in a group of 25, and we had two World War II vets, a few Korean War vets and about 15 Vietnam vets. Everyone treated us with respect as veterans. It was a nice welcome home gesture to us Vietnam vets who weren’t treated the same as other vets coming home.”
A love for his country serves as part of Tom’s motivation to keep moving on. “I volunteer in cardio rehab at the hospital near us. Several veterans come through there, and I always give them some special attention. I’m running for those who are not able to run. The amputees and those in the hospital beds, and the people who have aches and pains that can barely walk, much less run.”
Tom is also inspired by the competitors all around him. He explains, “I’m totally inspired by the people here that are older than I am. In 20 years, that’s me.”
By: Gracie Murray and Del Moon
Table Tennis: Cruising to Victory
Robert Guillotte has a cruise to thank for igniting his competitive table tennis fire. Robert played casually all his life, but the thrill of a huge win in a table tennis tournament on a cruise ship drove him to take it more seriously. “During the sea days when there was nothing to do, I played in a small tournament they had and it was a doubles tournament,” says Robert. “We played and we won!”
After that trip, Robert, then 62, decided to take up competitive table tennis. “I went to a tournament in New Orleans and I didn’t win a game,” Robert says. “Then I decided I better take it seriously, so I got a coach, played regularly...and I love it!”
Table tennis occupies a small space and can be played indoors, so players have the luxury of anytime practice. Robert plays table tennis in his garage in Lafayette, Louisiana with his wife. He loves the sport because it challenges him differently with each new opponent. “It’s great for your head, it’s great for your heart, it’s great for your lungs,” says Robert. “It’s basically physical chess. After your opponent hits the ball you have 0.6 seconds to get it, so it’s very mental at the level I attempt to play.”
This is the Robert’s first year in the National Senior Games. He is competing in singles, doubles and mixed doubles table tennis brackets. The diversity and friendship of the group of athletes who compete in table tennis is what Robert loves most about The Games.
“There are so many different people you meet,” Robert comments as he looks around at the diverse group of men around him. “I’ve played tournaments all over the United States and made a lot of friends from that. That’s fun, especially knowing people from other parts of the country.”
By: Madison Lathum
Racquetball: Double Knee Replacement? No Problem!
John Learson, a racquetball player from West Chester, Pennsylvania, is in Birmingham for his first National Senior Games. At 70, he is in picture perfect health, swims a mile a day and then plays racquetball with his friends. The scars on his knees are the only clue that he’s had any challenges.
“I’ve been playing racquetball a long time, and two years ago I got new knees.” explains John.
It’s hard to get back to top playing shape with one knee replacement, and nearly impossible on two. The months of physical therapy are difficult enough, let alone getting back into a multi-directional, fast-twitch sport again.
“Racquetball will beat up your body more so than any other sport on the planet,” John said. “You know, I’ve had numerous, numerous injuries, and anyone you talk to who has played will tell you that. But it’s so much fun. We play a lot of doubles and I play outdoor racquetball down in Florida. You can play it all of your life.”
John was emboldened to take on new challenges. “Five months after I had my double knee replacement, my daughter and I climbed Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. It’s very steep. There are parts in the last mile and a half that are almost vertical.” He explains that he was thankful to have his daughter there to both support and push him. “ My daughter would zoom ahead of me and stop and wait, but I did it. I was so proud I was able to make it. After only four or five months, I was really proud.”
John says his favorite part of being at the National Senior Games is measuring himself against other people his age. He earned a fifth place ribbon in the 70-74 age category, but plans to come back for the gold in 2019.
“I’ll be in Albuquerque for sure. I know now how I compare to other players my age. I know what I need to do. I haven’t played in a tournament in a long time. You have to be mentally tough to make it to the top. It’s been a good learning experience for me here,” John explains.
By: Ashley Williams
Humana Game Changer: Glennon Bazzle, 74, Birmingham, AL
A coin flip at age 17 led Glennon Bazzle to his first job in the spa of an athletic club in New Orleans learning about massages, igniting his passion for health and fitness and leading him to the country club scene where he learned to golf. Glennon was hooked on the sport when he received his first set of hand-me-down clubs. After watching the golfers and using his knowledge of the human body to understand golf at the anatomical level, Glennon developed his own swing technique and authored “The Anatomy of the Perfect Swing.” He’s been instructing golfers young and old for over 27 years as a member of the United States Golf Teachers Federation. He will compete in golf at the 2017 National Senior Games.