Game On: St. Louis Senior Olympics

Each Memorial Day weekend, the St. Louis Senior Olympics gives older adults the opportunity to go for the gold. The Masters-style athletic competition promotes health and wellness for people over 50 with a wide variety of opportunities in competitive sports and other events. It’s a beloved tradition, featuring more than 1,500 athletes and more than 300 volunteers. T&S spoke with event coordinator Stephanie Rhea to learn more about the competition.

How did the St. Louis Senior Olympics begin?
The first St. Louis Senior Olympics was held in 1980 to celebrate St. Louis Jewish Community Center’s 100th anniversary. There really hadn’t been anything like this before, and a committee decided to make it a one-time event. It was very successful—everyone loved it. The decision was made to continue with it, and now, we’re getting ready for our 44th St. Louis Senior Olympics. The National Senior Games was actually modeled after us.

How has the event grown?
Originally, there were 12 events. They were selected to represent what The J has to offer. Now, we have 91 different events. The first St. Louis Senior Olympics was held only on The J property. Since then, we have found community partners to host activities that we don’t have the facilities for. We go to Teachers Billiards in Lake Saint Louis for our billiards—which actually were previously held in the men’s locker room, so this has been a big improvement. We’ve gotten to include cycling events, and Principia lets us use their beautiful grounds for track and field competition.

Why is it important for seniors to have this opportunity?
There are so many reasons! At The J, our mission is all about lifelong fitness. The games are a great opportunity to get up and get active. While you don’t have to be at peak performance to compete, some of the events do have intense competition. The St. Louis Senior Olympics also offers the chance to meet new people and socialize. There is a great sense of camaraderie. Personally, I love getting to see older adults who have spent so much time supporting their kids and grandkids at activities get their chance to be cheered for.

Who can participate?
The games are open to anyone 50 and older, but the cut off is not the age you are, but what you will be turning this year. For example, if your birthday is in December, you could still compete the year you turn 50, even if you’re still 49 at the event. So this year, all competitors were born in 1974 or earlier.

What types of events are there?
We have a bit of everything. Our pickleball tournament is very popular. It is so big that we have to hold it the weekend before. We have singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Other events include everything from bridge to track and field. This year, we have a 79-year-old competing in pole vaulting. There are 15 swimming events and four cycling events. We have home run derbies for both baseball and softball. There is even an art competition. The St. Louis Senior Olympics truly has something for everyone.

What goes into planning the St. Louis Senior Olympics?
The St. Louis Senior Olympics is a well oiled machine. It is volunteer-run. Once people get involved, they tend to stay involved. We have volunteers in charge of each event. It is really possible thanks to the support of the community, including our sponsors and the venues who host us. My job as games coordinator is really just to make sure everyone and all of the equipment is where it’s supposed to be, so we can be ready for the games.

How can people get involved?
While registration is closed for this year, we’re always looking for athletes. Many of our competitors return each year. They love the competition, but even more so, they love the people they compete against. If you are interested in participating, you can contact me, and I will put you on the list for next year. We’re also always are looking for new volunteers. It’s a really fun weekend whether you are volunteering or competing. We all have a great time, and the sportsmanship is unbelievable.

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Photos courtesy of St. Louis Senior Olympics

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