By Jessica T. Pfau

If you were in Cleveland, Ohio this week, you would be there with 11,000 senior athletes - ages 50 to 101 - who are there competing in the 2013 National Senior Olympics. The Opening Festival took place on July 19, kicking off the two-week long senior games with the lighting of the cauldron and a fireworks display.

One of the largest recurring multi-sport events in the United States, these senior games will draw nearly 30,000 visitors to the Cleveland area between July 19th and August 1st. The 19 competitive events include archery, badminton, basketball, bowling, race walk, road race, cycling, pickleball, golf, horseshoes, racquetball, shuffleboard, softball, swimming, table tennis, tennis, track & field, triathlon and volleyball.

The national games take place every other year. Any athlete interested in participating in the 2015 National Senior Olympics, which will be held in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, must be at least 50 years old on Dec. 31, 2014. They must also qualify for these Olympic games by first participating in a qualifying event at the state level.

Oklahoma's qualifying events will take place in Oklahoma City in the fall of 2014. Men and women of all fitness levels can participate in a variety of athletic and non-athletic competitions. Each event is categorized into specific age groups: 50-54; 55-59; 60-64; 65-69; 70-74; 75-79; 80-84; 85+. The top three group finishers from each team or individual event will receive a gold, silver or bronze medal. In addition, seniors whose times meet the qualifying standards for national competition are able to advance to the national games in 2015.

The goal of the senior games is to encourage seniors to stay physically and mentally fit and to have a greater quality of life through regular exercise and activity. Although there are many competitive seniors who have their eyes on winning the medals or breaking records, a majority of the senior athletes participate because they want to stay in shape and stay connected to their friends and communities.

"It is not all about being the winner," says Opal Jones, a long-time Ardmoreite, who has competed in numerous Oklahoma and national senior games, "I participate because I enjoy it. I want to stay physically and mentally active. The state competitions are nice because you can go at your own pace. There are several non-athletic competitions too, like story-telling and photography."

Bob Cline, racquetball enthusiast and former Ardmore YMCA director reports, "I enjoyed the traveling and competing in the national senior games. Sometimes I would win. Sometimes I would lose. But I sure loved playing the games!"

Healthy aging is about making thoughtful daily lifestyle choices that will improve your physical and mental wellbeing. Exercise, a healthy diet, and strong relationships with friends are equally important in tackling the challenges of age.

Regular exercise positively impacts the mind and body, especially for older adults. Exercise improves your physical strength and fitness, improves your balance, and reduces feelings of depression. For the most part, when older people lose their ability to do things on their own, it does not happen solely because they have aged. It is more likely the result of inactivity.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who are more active. Lack of physical activity can also lead to more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations, and more use of medicines.

At 7 p.m. on Aug. 1st, in celebration of the completion of the 2013 National Senior Olympics, the Goddard Center will show "Age of Champions", an inspirational and award-winning documentary about senior athletes competing in the games. The director will talk about the making of this film and meeting the athletes, "What unites [these athletes] is an unwavering conviction that the best in life still lies ahead of them. Despite the tolls of age, they are continuously striving to participate in the next competition or break the next record."

This film — and the senior games themselves — capture the triumphant spirit of seniors who tackle old age with grace, humor, and optimism. Win or lose, the seniors participating in these games are living proof that it is never too late to become champions.

Jessica T. Pfau is executive director for Ardmore Village, a senior residence and activities community. She can be contacted at 580-223-4174 or