Jane Soeten, 88, Wasilla, Alaska
Jane Soeten has earned many medals as a senior athlete, including one gold and two bronze in field events at the 2013 National Senior Games presented by Humana. Last year, however, she picked up a special medal from a very different field of play when she traveled from Wasilla, Alaska to Washington, DC to receive a Congressional medal for her service in the Civil Air Patrol during World War II.
Soeten began as a 14 year old cadet in 1943. “That was typical for teens at that time,” she recalls. “We were all trying to figure out how we could contribute to winning the war. All the young men would lie to get into the service if they weren’t old enough.” She wanted to be a WASP — the colloquial term for the Women Air force Service Pilots. Before she turned 16, the Tulsa, Oklahoma teen had a single engine flight certificate and experience flying Piper Cub, PT19, and PT22 aircraft. She hoped to take planes across the ocean, but then the war ended. She went on to have a successful career that included 25 years as executive director of a YWCA branch in Tulsa.
Like many pre Title IX women Jane did not have the opportunity to play sports as a youth. “When I was growing up, it was not considered ladylike to play sports,” she says. “We had gym in high school, and that was about it. We had to wear bloomers.” At 65, her doctor advised her to “use it or lose it” so she entered Tulsa’s local Senior Games in track and field. She has been a regular competitor in National Senior Games since 1989, expanding her sport profile to include basketball and racquetball along the way. She particularly enjoyed being part of her Sooner Gals championship women’s senior basketball team for many years, and was even featured on the Rosie O’Donnell Show in 2012. “I talk Senior Games like I’m talking about breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she quips.
In 2013, Soeten moved from Oklahoma to Wasilla, 80 miles north of Anchorage, to live closer to her daughter. It is now a 320 mile trip to compete in the annual Alaska International Senior Games, where she is the oldest female basketball competitor and has already set all-time field event records. She’s overcome the challenges of training in an isolated location in novel ways. “I have a broomstick for my javelin, a 5 pound dumbbell for my shot put, and I use a Frisbee or a dish as a discus – it helps for the motion and the coordination.” Her three medals in the 2013 National Senior Games presented by Humana, including a third best all time women’s 85-89 hammer throw, testify to her determination.
Soeten added racquetball as her second individual sport in national competition in 2009. “It’s a strategy game and I love it. You have to watch your opponent and find a weak spot. You try to put the ball where you know they can’t return it,” she explains. “But the only courts within 80 miles of here are at an expensive membership club. So I go downstairs and can practice against my garage door. It’s not too bad.”
What does the Congressional medal mean to Jane Soeten? “You know, it’s really hard to explain what it means, ’cause you think of all the sacrifices made by the whole country in World War II,” she says. “Why single out someone like me to recognize when there were so many who sacrificed?”