A year after that annoying AARP envelope arrived, however, something happened that made a baby boomer like me actually proud to be designated as "old." My senior women's basketball team qualified to compete in the 2007 Summer National Senior Games, aka the Senior Olympics.
Held every two years, it is the largest multisport event in the world for senior athletes. Some 12,000 Masters athletes 50 and older from throughout the nation will compete in Louisville, Ky., this month and in July — not merely in gentler sports such as shuffleboard, golf, horseshoes and archery, but in pole vault, triathlon, cycling, swimming, high jump and three-on-three half-court basketball.
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If you are picturing gray-haired ladies sliding arthritically around the court, politely apologizing for fouls, think again. I left my first tournament feeling as if I'd finished a prizefight. Not shy about muscling in toward the basket and holding players out of the key, these gals can be as cutthroat as high school kids.
Many may show up in braces, goggles and adhesive tape: Injuries take longer to heal, but the same determination driving us to compete in the first place soon propels us back into the lineup.
Although Masters athletes may be on a downhill slide biologically, becoming a Senior Olympian turns the road uphill with a virtually unlimited horizon. With Olympian age categories extending to 100-plus, a young senior like me could have 50 years of competition ahead.
Healthcare agencies such as Humana, the main sponsor of the 2007 Games, love the idea of Senior Olympics because it keeps older adults motivated to continue healthy habits.
We're a marketer's dream. Many of us are retired, with money and time to burn, not rocking in a chair at home but rolling out through the nation to meet new competitors and snag products to help us keep fit and relieve pain.
The fact is that everything is gravy for us senior athletes, called "geezerjocks" by a magazine and an online community of the same name. To lose at the regular Olympics is devastating, but we know we are playing in "overtime," which heightens our appreciation for each moment.
We are lucky to be alive and in good enough shape to compete: Any day the ACL could pop, the disk could herniate, the biopsy could come back positive.
Granted, we are not as strong and as fast as we once were, but that's no reason to throw in the towel. After all, aren't we in our "golden" years? We'll take that to mean at the top of our game.
Teresa Roberts teaches English at St. John School in Encinitas.