A Legacy Honored - Tom McAdam, 60, Greenwood Village, Colorado
Whether it’s a lifelong athlete, or a person getting involved in Senior Games at a later age, a first step has to be taken to get in the game. Before that step is usually an inspiration, and families frequently provide the spark.
Tom McAdam’s spark came from a father whose life has been dedicated to physical fitness education and research, and punctuated by noteworthy athletic accomplishment. Bob McAdam, now 95, showed courage and leadership serving in World War II and became a kinesiology professor and college athletics coach. His Air Force background also led to consulting work in the early astronaut fitness program. Many racquetball players know his name, as Bob was inducted into the National Masters Racquetball Association International Hall of Fame in 2005.
Tom and six siblings all participated in sports, but he did not excel in athletics and focused on education, career and his kids as an adult. He says he was relying more on his good genetics than any organized fitness regimen to maintain his health. When his father curtailed his racquetball play over the past decade to care for his wife who had developed dementia, Tom wondered what he could do to help keep his dad active and connected. During a phone call to younger brother Brian on his 50th birthday, Tom mentioned that they were actually of age to be in the National Senior Games. He wondered if the two of them could get their older brothers, and maybe even the parents, to participate. It would create an opportunity for a family reunion every two years and help keep everyone fit. Maybe other siblings spread around the country would join in, and the entire effort would be a tribute to the legacy of fitness of their father.
The big reunion idea did not come to fruition, but Tom persevered, seeking to qualify in racquetball and induce his father to do the same and play doubles with him. Unfortunately, Tom failed to qualify in racquetball at the Rocky Mountain Senior Games. Rather than give up, he turned to a backup plan of swimming, although his competition experience was limited to observing his siblings in the past. Tom did qualify in several swimming events, and competed in the 2009 National Senior Games presented by Humana. He was also happy to see that his brother Brian, who was going through health challenges, had begun swimming in the Minnesota Senior Games. Both swam in the 2011 and 2015 Games, and last year Tom found himself atop the podium after the 200 breaststroke event for men 60-64. To further demonstrate the impact of Bob McAdam’s legacy, Brian’s two children were inspired to see their dad’s activity and improvement, and both became competitive swimmers themselves.
The goal was to honor the fitness legacy of his father, and that goal has been realized. Tom McAdam’s journey reminds us that life is unpredictable and that there will always be challenges to overcome. Rather than quit when his idea ran into obstacles, he pushed forward. The result has been a positive impact on his brother’s health and family life, and an increase in his own activity level and social connections through his ongoing participation in The Games.
|Bob McAdam (courtesy Illinois State University Magazine)|
Tom, we’re told that your participation came about as a tribute to the example set by your father, Bob McAdam.
My dad’s background has been physical education. He got his doctorate degree at the University of Illinois, which at a time was on the cutting edge of fitness research. He served in the Air Force and reserves, so when the astronaut program started and consultants were needed to help set up their exercise and fitness programs, he was one of those involved.
He was also a professor of kinesiology at Northern Illinois University, as well as their tennis coach, gymnastics coach, and assistant basketball coach. From there, he was with the University of Minnesota, and finally with the physical education department at Illinois State University. So his life really revolved around not only knowing the fitness topic, but also participating in it heavily.
Dad is in the National Masters Racquetball International Hall of Fame. He also did running and other cardio vascular exercises to help stay in top shape all of his life. There were six boys and one girl in our family, and we were all into various sports.
He was leadership material, but always remained humble. When he was in the POW camps in Germany, he organized and led the officers in calisthenics even though he had broken ribs.
Did you excel in sports and carry it into your life too?
In high school I did wrestling, cross country and track. It’s not as much what I was, but rather what I wasn’t, because I really wasn’t stellar in any of them. [Laugh]
I got an accounting degree from the University of Illinois and didn’t do any athletics there. When I got out, I was a CPA in Indianapolis for awhile, then down in Phoenix for four years, then in 1984 I moved to Colorado. I would say that my situation was that I was so consumed between work, kids and other things that sports and fitness were left off along the way.
What was your approach to fitness as an adult?
There were times I went to the club and I went through triathlon training intending to do them, but never did. I’d say I’ve counted on the genetics of my family carrying me through the times when I was lazy and not working out. I played ball and threw Frisbee with my kids, but again I’ve relied on the genetics. However, I can also say, I’ve never done anything really stupid to hurt myself. I’ve never had a stitch or broken a bone. So, I’ve preserved my health that way.
How did you find your way into the Senior Games?
Well, it wasn’t anything dramatic like I had a heart attack or was 80 pounds overweight and had to change my ways. The idea came as a mechanism for family camaraderie with a tagline of fitness in honor of my dad.
About eight years ago, my parents were in their 80s and living down in Texas. Mom had developed dementia, so Dad was relegated to being a caretaker and was curtailing a lot of his activities. He wasn’t able to do racquetball and things that he had been thriving on. I thought, “Well, how can I help keep him involved?”
|Tom, son Matt and Bob McAdam|
At the same time, my younger brother Brian in Minnesota was turning 50 and was kind of distraught when I talked to him on his birthday. He was having a tough time with neck and back issues going back to his time playing hockey. He was having operations to put wires in his neck and having his back fused. He was on various medications, had gotten out of shape and overweight, and had two young kids to keep up with.
I was 52 at that time and told Brian that I had just become aware of Senior Games. I had thought they were just for people 65 and over, so I was a bit surprised to find out that I was eligible. So since the National Senior Games were every two years, I thought with our family all spread out, maybe we could have a convenient excuse to have a biennial family reunion wherever the Games would be hosted around the country. We would do it surrounding the theme of fitness as a legacy to our dad.
I tried to get my mom and dad to go qualify in the Texas Senior Games in table tennis, because they met playing ping pong at DePaul University and that would bring them around full circle. Even with the dementia going on, Mom was still able to play.
My other motivation was to get Dad to play doubles racquetball with me. He is a hall of famer in the sport, and one of my sons was also a national junior champion in racquetball. So I thought maybe I could drag my way through and qualify, and Dad could play down in my age group.
That’s a challenging idea to pull together. How did it go?
For various reasons, only my brother Brian picked up the gauntlet. It was great because it turned his outlook around. He was the most unlikely of my siblings to do it, because he had not been doing well. Getting into the pool to compete gave him a source of focus and helped him physically.
So, unfortunately my whole big reunion idea fizzled. Well, I just decided I would go ahead myself and try to qualify in racquetball. The top three guys qualify at each age level, and there were only four guys in my age group in the Ro cky Mountain Senior Games in 2008. I figured I might find my way through it, but instead I got fourth place and didn’t qualify.
But I also signed up for some of the swimming events just in case the racquetball thing didn’t work out. I thought about which events wouldn’t have a lot of guys in it, figuring I could come in the back door in that way. I didn’t really have a personal background in swimming races like my two oldest brothers.
|Tom with Brian’s family in Houston at The Games in 2011|
I showed up at the pool in flowery long swim shorts, and I couldn’t figure out how to keep the goggles on. So I wore a diving mask, and that meant I had to start in the water. The guy next to me turned out to be a former captain of his swim team at USC. He had his head and body hair shaved with the lazers [LZR swimwear] going on and all, so we were quite a contrast. I did qualify though. And when we got done, the timer came up and told me, “You know, if you learned how to do a flip turn, you might have beaten him.” The Nationals were out at Stanford for 2009, and the week before I learned to do a flip turn. I did okay considering everything.
My brother Brian is really the biggest success story out of all of this. We both went down to Houston for the National Senior Games in 2011, and also swam in Minnesota just last year. He has often expressed his gratitude because it greatly improved his health. Here was this guy who was out of shape following neck and shoulder surgeries, and had really gotten concerned about his health. Then, together with help from his arthritis medication, he was back in shape. Not only that, he had his kids come out to watch him swim, and they got inspired and took up swimming and compete in state level events up in Minnesota.
For me, the reason Brian’s kids are competing and doing well really starts with their grandfather. It went from him to me, from me to their dad, and from their dad to them.
It’s the kind of collateral thing where you really don’t know who you’re going to impact, and my dad is at the heart of this.
Has it been difficult to get up to speed and train to swim in Senior Games?
I’m not really a swimmer like my oldest two brothers, so it’s a still a little bit tougher for me to stay motivated and train during the off season. When it gets to be around April, I ramp up and fight to fit back into my suit so I can get qualified. Last year, I picked the right events. Everybody does the freestyle, but I saw that not many in their 60s like to do the 200 breaststroke or 200 backstroke. So I pretty much strategized that I could do well by doing those events.
Last July in Minnesota, I really targeted the 200 breaststroke and did a personal best time in it. There were two guys seeded ahead of me by several seconds. Being the accountant and statistician, I was figuring out ahead of time what each person had done in the 50 and in the 100, how they’re going to be in lane placement and I’ll know where to look out from and so on. My strategy was to ride behind them a little bit and hope I had enough at the end. But when I came off the blocks I was ahead, and I just kept going and holding on.
It was exactly the opposite of what I thought I was going to do. They did not do their best and I ended up three seconds faster than I’d ever done and got first place. And I also finished second in the 200 backstroke.
So you didn’t expect to win a gold medal. How did it feel to accomplish that?
I felt satisfied more than euphoric. In my mind, I knew I worked hard enough, and I wasn’t doing the 50 or 100 free, or the IMs that are more popular. I’m doing the events that not as many people are doing, so I’m in the mix that way.
It was more satisfying in that I had done the prep work mentally to know that I had a legitimate shot if the stars aligned. I took advantage of the opportunity when it became available, because it might not come again.
I try to be realistic about this stuff. There’s all of these former varsity swimmers and All Americans out there. There’s a lot of guys here in Colorado of my age that are so busy with their masters swimming events that they don’t even choose to go to the National Senior Games. So it’s not like I’m beating Ohio State for the football championship. [Laugh]
I just know that if I keep constantly improving, whatever times I’m swimming are the best I’ve ever done. It’s not like I’m doing way slower than in my 20s, because I wasn’t swimming back then. So almost every time it’s my personal best record.
Well, it shows you are improving the more you do it. And you are keeping active as a result.
After last July, I stayed in the pool two or three days a week until around Thanksgiving, then took a little break until January and it got away from me. Three weeks ago, I got back in and my swimsuit ripped out. So it hasn’t been that regular.
But on the other hand, if it wasn’t for these games to motivate me to get ramped up during those periods of time, where would I be? I don’t want to oversell it, but I would likely be sitting at a TV watching sports and not getting into the pool with the thought that the games are coming up. The games are a motivation that gets me off the couch. I needed to have that.
For me it’s just as much the social aspect of it combined. I don’t like to get in shape by going to the gym and beating mysel f up. Isn’t it nice that this can be a vehicle to meet more people and feel like the world is a small place when you see the same people from other states at these games?
Your point of view represents a large number of people with average ability and who enjoy the benefits of being in Senior Games, be it local, state or national level.
It’s like, how do you want to continue to feel alive? Part of it is the physical well-being, and the other is the mental stimulation you get by being with other people. You don’t have to excel to participate and enjoy the process.
|Bob McAdam at the Cowtown 5K where he clocked a time of 37:13 at age 91.|
Back to Bob McAdam. Have you gotten your dad interested in joining The Games?
Dad knows his body, and the last year or two has taken a bit of a toll on him. His eyesight and hearing have gone down, which makes racquetball difficult. I’ve asked him if he would want to run in the Senior Games, but he says “I don’t want to run if I can’t do the quality of run I know I can do.” He’s earned the right to do what he wants to do. He would be in the 95 age group now.
Four years ago, Dad had me fly down to Texas because he decided to do the Cowtown 5K race in Fort Worth. He was as sick as I’ve seen him in 20 years, and Mom wanted me to talk him out of it. But he thought running it would help him break his cold, and he went out and beat the American record time for his age.
In March of this year, a few weeks after my mom died, Dad did a 5K on the treadmill and his time would have broken the American record for a 95-year-old by two minutes. Of course, it was inside and he was holding the rails, but I think he would do really well.
He likes to run in solitude. I’m a bit afraid if he did a 5K road race without a pacer he would go off course because he wouldn’t see which way he’s supposed to go. But then again, a pacer might not be able to keep up with him anyway! [Laugh]