Father and son senior pole vaulters Chuck and Phil Milliman knew they were being honored with two awards, including NSGA Personal Best recognition, at the opening social event on July 20, 2018 for the 22nd edition of the Washington State Senior Games (WSSG). However, the gregarious duo, who have been in The Games since 2003 and finally both won gold medals in national competition last year in their own age divisions, had no idea about the surprises we had in store for them.
The house came down when two-time Olympic pole vaulter (2008, 2012) and University of Washington star Brad Walker ambushed our honorees to share his admiration with the gathering of nearly 300 athletes and family members. The joke going around afterwards was that for the first time in their lives, the Millimans were speechless!
Now 38 and a track coach at Washington State University, Walker competed as a professional athlete for 11 years and still holds both American and Pac-12 records. He told us that when he read the Personal Best feature we sent to him he was inspired about their passion for the sport and was able to fit the appearance into his schedule. In his remarks, Walker also noted his appreciation for Chuck Milliman’s service as a minister and shared that he became a Christian during his own athletic career. “It’s great what you have accomplished, both as athletes and as examples to others,” he commented.
NSGA CEO Marc T. Riker and WSSG President Jack Kiley joined Walker in presenting the NSGA Personal Best award. (Read the Millimans' Personal Best feature interview here.) At the same time, the duo received WSSG’s highest honor, the Dennis Mahar Spirit of the Games award. “The purpose of our award is very close to what the Personal Best program recognizes, so it just made sense for us to give our 2018 award to them as well,” Kiley explained.
“What a surprise! We know all about Brad Walker, and it’s amazing and humbling that he would come here to congratulate us,” Phil said. In his acceptance remarks, the 66-year old son sheepishly admitted that he had gotten an autograph form Walker several years ago and lost it. The Olympian immediately rectified the situation by providing a new autograph.
There was one other surprise NSGA sprung on the honorees. When Phil won gold last year in Birmingham at the 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana, he bested former University of Oklahoma All American Brad Winter, who has also served on the Albuquerque City Council for 20 years and was featured NSGA's June Athlete of the Month. The 2017 silver medalist recorded a brief video message for us that was shown at the program in which Winter warmly invited Washington athletes to come to ABQ for the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana, and then advised Phil to practice hard for their next meeting in his home town.
The opening social event, held at the Lacey Community Center near Olympia, also featured a parade of athletes and sport demos of disc golf, pickleball and ballroom dance. A record number of athletes, more than 2,000, registered for the Washington Games which serve as the qualifying event for the 2019 National Senior Games.
Riker and NSGA Media and Communications Director Del Moon visited several sport venues and found happy athletes and volunteers carrying out well-organized competitions. Here’s some of the interesting athletes we met during the visit:
66-year-old Chris Penyar is a small town family doctor, and he found a way to “heal himself” competition-wise in Olympia. Penyar showed us where he tore the right bicep that he uses to throw hammer and discus, and when we asked how on Earth he can throw he simply replied “I’ve learned how to throw with my other arm over the past couple of weeks.” You are one gentle beast, Doc!
Trackster Kat Will, 67, survived breast cancer and a mastectomy in 2013 and had ongoing cardiac issues. She was advised a pacemaker might need to be put in. She then got a tattoo of a face over her heart joking that it would prevent them from putting one in. She still needed the pacemaker and when it was placed, the genius of her design was made manifest. The device pops out of the cheek of the face! Well done, Kat!
Power Walk will be added as a medal sport at the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana. Washington offered the 1500 meter this year, and two new competitors showed up to walk the walk: 74-year-old Washingtonian Diane Klinkenberg and NSGA’s own PR pro Del Moon, 65, who said this was his first athletic competition since middle school. The goal both set was to just finish the race and enjoy the health benefits of exercise, but later both were pleasantly surprised to find gold medals around their necks after the race!
John Heinbigner (shown far right with his Papermill Printing team) is a major force in Washington senior basketball. He has been organizing and fielding men’s teams for more than 20 years, and must be one heckuva coach with his teams collectively winning 120 games against 20 losses in WSSG history. He’s brought teams to Nationals only once, but says he is pushing this team to make the trip to Albuquerque next June.
Del Moon clinks medals with the amazing Don Wright at the track competition. Don, 77, was diagnosed with incurable multiple myeloma in 2003 and was given a grim prognosis. Instead of giving in to cancer, Don started running marathons. Between his elevated fitness and medical advances, Don has kept the disease at bay and now wants to run track at the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana. During this qualifying year Don has also traveled from Minnesota to California, New York and Iowa Senior Games to share his message of hope. Watch for more to come from us about this inspiring gent!
Thanks, Washington, for extending your hospitality and displaying the never-give-up spirit of the Great Northwest in well-organized Games!