Ray Tingstrom, 78, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Mick Tingstrom, 54, Woodbridge, Virginia
“It’s like a family” is a phrase commonly heard among Senior Games athletes to describe their feeling of connection with others pursuing the same goals to live active and healthy lives. There are real family ties when a son or daughter decides to follow in their parents’ sporting footsteps after they turn 50, with each enjoying competition with others in their age groups.
While two generations of athletes is becoming more common, it is unusual for a parent and child to compete in the same event, as in the National Senior Games in 2019 when 77-year old Ray Tingstrom doubled up with his son Mick to play Shuffleboard, which required the patriarch to compete in the 50 to 54 age division. Despite ‘playing down’ more than 20 years his age, Ray and Mick won a Silver medal.
We thought this was an inspiring intergenerational story, but as we interviewed Ray and Mick we discovered that Ray has also been recruiting other older family members to join them as competitors for the 2022 National Senior Games presented by Humana in Greater Fort Lauderdale. To date he says he has two other sons eligible to play in Senior Games, and both his and Micks’ wives are getting involved and that he expects more Tingstroms will be lacing up to play.
As Ray Tingstrom shared his history it became clear that he has always placed importance on fitness and imbued that into his family by coaching his four sons and being an example playing numerous sports as an adult. The Vietnam War veteran continued to serve in the Army Reserves and National Guard for many years, often working with Special Forces, and his experiences had a physical impact on his body. This did not stop him from his athletic pursuits, despite numerous joint replacements over the years.
Mick also followed a pathway through military service and now works for the Department of Homeland Security in Virginia-another example of his father’s influence. In the following dual interview, the Tingstroms talk about their sport-filled family history, their competition experience and how they view the challenges and benefits of active participation in Senior Games…and life.
Ray Tingstrom clearly possesses the Personal Best mental attitude to push past obstacles and to inspire others through his personal example and offering enthusiasm, love and encouragement to others. And clearly, it has rubbed off on the rest of his family members, who are also enjoying their best health by staying active for life.
Ray, it’s great that you got your son interested in the National Senior Games experience. What got you interested in joining Senior Games?
Ray: About three years ago one of my veteran friends asked if I wanted to join him to play pickleball and badminton in the 2018 National Veterans Golden Age Games. I had never heard of pickleball before, but I said ‘Sure, let’s give it a try.’ I entered eight different events in which I won seven medals and placed 4th in pickleball.
I researched more and found that every state had games going on. I wanted to get my swimming technique down and asked Mick if he could give me some pointers. Then it came to me that Mick had turned 50 years old. I told him that he could participate right alongside me at the National Senior Games. From there we went on to the Huntsman Games in Utah and then to Nationals.
I had never heard of it. I also didn’t know that my dad could even swim! I don’t recall ever seeing him swim in all the years that my brothers and I did it. He told me about this whole world of Senior Games and I was just awestruck that it existed. What an honor and fun would it be to do a father/son new activity and start new season of life together.
What were your expectations, Mick?
Mick: I went in with no expectations because I hadn’t swum competitively in about 38 years. My dad always taught us to do your best and always give 100% and that is what we do. I trained seven days a week for several months to get ready. I was pleasantly surprised afterwards that I had done well as a young 50-year-old.
It’s become more common in recent years to see the children of Senior Games athletes competing, but they compete in their own age division. What caught our attention was that in order to play shuffleboard together with your son, you had to “play down” from the 75-79 to the 50-54 group. That’s tough to do in any sport.
Ray: That was interesting. Neither Mick nor myself had ever played shuffleboard before. I started looking for other sports to compete in and have fun to fill our time when we went to Senior Games, and shuffleboard sounded good. In our family, we feel we are well rounded enough to pick up any activity and be able to adjust by using our experience and knowledge of physics if you will. Watch other people to see what they are doing, right and wrong. Listen to other people about it and learn as we go. That is what we did and it was actually fun.
Must have been fun for others to watch a 77-year-old mixing it up with 50 plus guys. And you won a Silver medal! It’s not as easy as it looks, was it harder than you first thought?
Ray: Actually, you pretty much said it right there. If you go into any sport like shuffleboard that’s not heavily athletic, you have expectations of ‘Yeah I can do this – all I have to do is push the puck down the lane.’
Mick: We were very fortunate to get great instruction in advance of our competition from some world class, nationally ranked shuffleboard players who were running it for the Huntsman Games. The people involved in this community love the sport, but they also love the people. They were very generous and very giving of the time to help show us the strategy involved. How did we know those people dad?
Ray: Our whole family is very social and we are not intimidated by the world. I just made friends with these guys and they volunteered their time and gave us tips that helped us to at least get started in the sport.
Mick: I also did do a lot of studying and watching video separate from my dad. There’s a lot of strategy, but execution is the real challenge. Shuffleboard is not all that easy and you can tell the difference with the experienced players.
Have other family members seen you having fun and now want to join in Senior Games?
Ray: Yes, absolutely. Last December was the first opportunity my wife Ellie had. There was a lot of pushing her to join in sports over the years, and she has been satisfied to watch all of her five boys (counting me) participate. She hasn’t been active in them except for being a spectator, but she is an excellent walker. Finally last December, I convinced her, and Mick convinced his wife Julie to do the power walk. Lo and behold, she is an excellent power walker. I think she has a little bit of a bug in her now.
My kids were always in awe of how fast their grandparents are. They can’t keep up with them! [Laugh]
You might not think my mom is a fierce competitor, but she is. She established the Florida games record for the 1500 power walk in a time of 11:14. That time not only won gold there, but it would also have won gold at the 2019 National Senior Games by 30 seconds.
Dad had high hopes going into Albuquerque for the power walk. He was doing great and had a blazing fast time. Right before the finish line, both feet were off the ground when he was leaning forward and putting everything he could put into it. That got him disqualified instead of a silver medal.
He didn’t even know that he had been DQ’d. He was very gracious though, and Dad recognized the beauty of that day. The family was there and it shows you the love and legacy that my father has passed on to his children and grandchildren.
Well, add Power Walk and two more members to the Tingstrom family Senior Games list. You might as well recruit the rest of your family to jump in Ray.
As a family, we had a great deal of fun whether it was when the kids were still at home or when they went to college or when they finally went away. Every time we got together, I always set up a basketball game for the five Tingstrom boys.
There are other family members who are interested in joining the senior sports now. I taught Mick how to play pickleball, then I taught his daughters and son, and then I taught one of my other sons. I think we are going to have a lot of family members at the next national event.
You are an impressive role model, so you must have an active history as an athlete yourself.
I was raised on a ranch in northern Arizona. We were at the ranch more than we were in the town, so I wasn’t able to participate in any sports until I got into high school. That’s where I rode in the National High School Rodeo in my state, riding bulls and bareback bronc’s and horse racing. My junior and senior years I finally got enough ambition to participate in football and basketball which I have been playing ever since. In college I did mostly intramural sports because I wasn’t experienced enough, and since I was small I didn’t play on any varsity teams.
I served in the Artillery in Vietnam, and when I came back I went back to college and joined the Army Reserves and later the National Guard. I spent 19 years with Special Forces on and off active duty. I will tell you it had a major effect on my body and my lower joints have all been replaced now. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
As I got a little older and had children, I wanted all of them to be able to play in sports, so I started coaching all four boys for the next 20 years. I also played in city recreational leagues in the same sports- baseball, basketball, soccer, swimming, volleyball, and football. Mick went on to be a Master swimmer. I wanted them all the grow up and be athletic, and to learn all of the good things that come out of athletic participation.
My dad exposed us to a number of different sports and back in those days, you could play all of them in high school. I swam year-round and that was good, but at the age of 12 I stopped so I could pursue football, basketball, volleyball, and soccer. I played soccer for four years in high school, and although I was probably good enough to swim in college, I just continued playing all the different sports that were out there. I probably majored more in intramural sports than in academia. [Laugh]
Later after his retirement, my parents started going on cruise vacations. While most people go to relax, they seek out all of the activities and competitions on board. No matter where their cabin was located on the ship, they did not use the elevator the whole time on the ship. That is the type of people they are.
What has been your career, Mick?
Mick: Another father inspiration. I was always impressed by him and his uniform and the stories he told us. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I decided to join the Army. I went in with no expectations for how far it would go, but when I graduated from college I earned a commission in the Army and stayed in for 27 years.
It figures Ray was an indirect recruiter. Did the military help keep you in shape?
I kept an athletic lifestyle by requirement. When I got out, I was just thankful I didn’t have to get up and work out in the mornings anymore. I changed careers to work for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and currently with Homeland Security. I didn’t really do a lot of sports or working out, but I have found time to coach my kids like Dad did.
Now, since I have had this experience with Senior Games, I find myself sharing my senior games experience with the soldiers I work with, especially those who are getting ready to retire. I am explaining it is ‘a new season’ that possibly exists after the Army.
What do you tell them are the benefits for you?
Mick: Two things. One, it’s the people, and two, it’s the thrill of victory. When I grew up with my brothers, I quickly learned that if you snooze, you lose at everything. Everything about our lives was competitive and it was fun and made us better. What matters is giving 100%, and how you play the game.
Ray, you mentioned you’ve overcome many injuries in the service and playing sports. But you said it’s worth it and you’re still going strong.
Everyone that I know complains that they have pains, half of them talk about having to get knees replaced and I laugh because they don’t know what I have been through. [Laugh]
In 2001, I decided to do my first hip surgery and my doctor said, ‘You need to stop playing basketball and take up less violent sports like walking or swimming.’ I kept on playing basketball and football. In 2004, I had to get my second hip replacement and that doctor said ‘You need to stop playing’ but I kept playing. In 2007, after a volleyball injury to my rotator cuff, my doctor said ‘You need to stop playing.’ I kept playing. In 2013, both of my knees needed to be replaced and I chose to have bilateral knee surgery instead of doing one at a time. I had the surgery at 71 years old. I recovered and I am still medaling in NSG sports events.
I’m not stopping. It is something that I enjoy doing. I can live day to day without having to use a cane, crutches, or a wheelchair. Yes, I hurt at night, but it is all worth it for me because I am doing something that I love and can still do. Just because you get old doesn’t mean you stop living.
Mick: Injuries are a part of life and the human body is vulnerable and prone to injury. I injured my right knee pretty significantly in a skiing accident earlier this year and I am looking at a 9-month recovery. The recovery would be much more difficult if I didn’t have a goal or something to inspire me to put in the physical therapy and to get my brain and heart committed to something bigger and better. Having sports and Senior Games is the carrot for someone -no matter their age or physical condition- to aspire to become better, healthy, fit, and competitive again. That is something that I am excited for.
I have a torn meniscus, and my surgeon said there was no need to repair it being 50 years old. I told them that I have games to play, and I need to get back out on the court and in the pool. I am being treated by a surgeon and physical therapist as if I am in my 20s. Just like my dad, I’ll be this way when I am 60 and when I am 70. Life is a lot more fun when you have that kind of thinking.