The Oregon Senior Games (OSG) is a collection of organized athletic events that are open for active adults, age 50 and older, and is a qualifier for ranking in the National Senior Games in Birmingham, Ala. Oregon was one of the last states to participate in this event. Going on its third year come this June, OSG continues to grow in popularity and participation numbers. With each of the previous two years having been so well received, a beneficiary has been added to this year's games: veterans.
There are 16 events in the games. Each game is highly organized with individual departments responsible for putting together its own system and facilities, under OSG as the umbrella organization, and the National Senior Games Association being the parent organization. Activities include, but are not limited to: archery, golf, a 5K run/walk, basketball, swimming, and track and field.
Hank Therien, special projects manager for Visit Bend, has worked diligently to organize and build the OSG to become the statewide success it is becoming. Growing from 500 participants the first year, and 600 the second, and OSG is expected to have 750 athletes this year. "We've been very focused on putting on a strong event. It's more about having an excuse to stay active," says Therien.
Helping one another is a general theme of Therien's. "The OSG is as much a social event as a competitive one," says Therien. This year one event will also be adding charity to its list of goals. Through sponsors, donations and fees, this year's 5K, called Sweat for Vets, will be raising money to purchase a new van that shuttles veterans from Bend to Portland Veterans Hospital. Driver and coordinator for the shuttle, Paul Dewitt, a veteran himself, as well as having served over 20 years, sees the day-to-day needs of his fellow veterans as well as the need to keep this program going. "The van runs every weekday. That's about 1,800 miles a week. You can imagine the wear and tear that can take place quickly. In many cases they don't have any way to get to their appointments. They really depend on us," says Dewitt.
Athletes from all over the state come to join in on the fun. Participants include Caye Poe, 73, and her 77-year-old husband, John Francis. Poe and Francis live in Dayton, Ore., and this year will be the second time the couple of 14 years has been registered for the event. Poe will compete in the 10K race walk, while Francis will run the 5K. Both have lived a very active life and are no strangers to athletic adventures like motorcycle racing or backpacking in Mexico. Poe laments that running no longer agrees with her hip, but that doesn't mean she can't walk. "My hip just meant that it was time to change direction. It's amazing to me that when someone can no longer do something, they just stop doing anything," she says as she brings up what it was like to attempt something new and how it can be scary. "My advice to seniors out there is to just try it! You had to learn how to feed yourself, how to walk, and how did you manage that? You took it one step at a time," she says.
Florence Latter, 92, participates in the 50 meters in the track and field events. The last two years she was the winner of the Sage Award which recognizes the most senior athlete in attendance. Latter has participated in the OSG since it started in 2014. Living in Grants Pass, Latter looks forward to this event all year long. She preaches the importance of staying active, especially at her age. "It keeps you young! If you can't run, then walk," she says. Latter believes that having events like the OSG is great motivation for fun and staying fit. "It keeps seniors up, active and out of the house. Nothing is worse than just sitting there," she says. Her daughter, Peggy Payne, who also lives in Grants Pass, comments on how this event isn't just for her mom and those like her, but rather for the family members on the sidelines as well. "Our whole family tries to get together, and when my mom crosses that finish line, it is so sweet. We all had tears in our eyes," she says, then quickly goes on to remark how the event isn't just about placing, but more about participation. "Everyone there is just so great. When competitors finish their part of the race they all turn around and cheer each other on. Everyone is just so supportive of one another. It's amazing," says Payne.
Oregon Senior Games is presented by Humana and Bend Memorial Clinic. For more information on registration and a complete list of events and times, visit the website at www.oregonseniorgames.com. To access the Disabled American Veterans' van program contact Paul Dewitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone 541-647-2363.