'I just love it!' Meet 15 senior athletes who will blow your mind

Image: Kay Glynn pole vaults during the 2011 National Senior Games Benjamin B. Morris
At age 58, Kay Glynn broke the world record in pole vaulting for women ages 55 to 59 at the National Senior Games on June 20, 2011. The now-61-year-old has her sights set on the 2015 National Senior Games.

Senior citizens? Retirees? Elders? Oh, no-no-no. Here’s a better label for these folks: fierce athletes. 

Meet 15 of the more than 11,000 expected participants in the National Senior Games, also known as the “Senior Olympics,” due to kick off in Minnesota one year from now on July 3, 2015. The over-50 athletes are competing in qualifying events this summer all over the United States.

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    Russ Witte swimming

    'I just love it!' Meet 15 senior athletes who will blow your mind

    Here are some of the more than 11,000 expected participants in the National Senior Games, also known as the “Senior Olympics,” due to kick off one year from now in July 2015.

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    Kay Glynn -

    Senior citizens? Retirees? Elders? Oh, no-no-no. Here’s a better label for these folks: fierce athletes. Meet 15 of the more than 11,000 expected participants in the National Senior Games, also known as the “Senior Olympics,” due to kick off in Minnesota one year from now on July 3, 2015.

    People are shocked when Kay Glynn of Hastings, Iowa tells them she's 61. Her competitors expect her to rock the leader board and the record books in senior track and field events, even though she didn’t take up the sport until age 48. She captured a gold and a bronze medal at the 2013 National Senior Games last July — and one month later, Glynn underwent the total hip replacement surgery she had put off in order to compete. "No way I was going to miss the nationals," she said. "I'm fine now and setting my sights on 2015!"

    Benjamin B. Morris
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    D. Paul Miller -

    When D. Paul Miller talks about the importance of senior health and fitness and spells out his routine, he can't help but sound like he is lecturing. That's because the Normal, Illinois dynamo is a retired professor from Illinois Wesleyan University. At 96, Miller was the oldest cyclist in the 2013 National Senior Games, and he expects to hold the same distinction when the biennial games are hosted in Minnesota next July. "It takes commitment, conviction, and real discipline to go year after year, but I remain convinced of its value," he said. "I plan to continue as long as I am physically able."

    Tracey Joyce
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    Karen Newman -

    You might expect a seven-time All American triathlete to capture the gold in the 50-54 age division at the 2015 National Senior Games. For Karen Newman, 52, of New Greenwich, Connecticut, nothing is a given and every day is a gift after the toughest competition of her life: a harrowing and debilitating two-year battle with breast cancer. She emerged victorious in 2008, reclaiming her elite form and pursuing a new career as a senior athlete.

    Makenzie L. Goodman
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    Vivian Stancil -

    Vivian Stancil, 67, of Riverside, California was raised as a foster child after she lost her mother in death at age 7. Then, as a 19-year-old mother of two young kids, she developed a nerve condition and lost sight in both eyes. She went on to become the first blind teacher in the Long Beach, California school system, and in her early 50s she decided to try to lose weight by swimming even though she was deathly afraid of water. She stuck with it and lost 125 pounds, and she’s qualified for every National Senior Games event since 1995. To date, she has won more than 100 medals. "When people see me now, I want them to see my handicap and say, 'If she can do it, then perhaps I can do it too,'" Stancil said. "You should never let life’s little challenges stop you from being all you can be."

    Claire Eggers
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    Ethel Lehmann -

    Ethel Lehmann, 84, of Largo, Florida is truly in a league of her own. She was a standout softball and baseball player as a youth and dreamed of going pro, but her mother made her promise to stop at 21 because "it was not feminine" to go down that path. Lehmann got back into the game at 47 by playing with women half her age, and later joined the roster for a senior men's club. She and her husband became the first married couple to play together in the 80-year history of the Kids 'N Kubs senior softball league in St. Petersburg. The desire to play with others her age led her to form the Florida Freedom Spirit senior women's softball team in 1995. To date, Lehmann and her husband have won 10 medals at the National Senior Games.

    Ted Wathen
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    DeEtte Sauer -

    In her late 40s, DeEtte Sauer of Houston, Texas got sick of being overweight and lost more than 100 pounds. When she became bored with exercise machines a few years later, she tried out for a swim team comprised of much younger women. She was shocked to discover an elite swimmer lurking within. Sauer, now 72, has scooped up more than her share of medals in senior competitions and is looking forward to the 2015 National Senior Games in Minnesota. "I’m still stunned that I can actually do this," she said. "I’ve always admired athletes, and to now be one is just a hoot!"

    Claire Eggers
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    Pat Boone -

    Basketball has been a lifelong passion for 80-year-old rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Pat Boone. He competed in Hollywood celebrity leagues over the years and once shared ownership of a pro team. Last July, Boone joined old friends on the Virginia Creepers Men's 75-79 team at the 2013 National Senior Games in Cleveland.

    Matthew A. Turner
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    Russ Witte -

    When Russ Witte of Cincinnati, Ohio makes waves, people notice. The 97-year-old swimmer was honored with the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism as a pilot in World War II, but in recent decades he's been known for flying through water. Witte is proud to say he competed in the first National Senior Games ever held in 1987. He now has others following in his wake, as his sons Ray, 62, and Jim, 58, were inspired to qualify and compete as senior swimmers in their age divisions.

    Anacleto Rapping
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    Oscar Peyton -

    Oscar Peyton, 60, knew he was fast as a kid but saw no future in running track. The pragmatic youth ran down a business degree instead. Once retired, Peyton thought he would give track a shot and discovered he was pretty good. Over the past decade, the Maryland runner has won nearly every race he has entered and holds several National Senior Games and masters records in his age group.

    Anacleto Rapping
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    John Sanmartini -

    An immigrant from Switzerland, John Sanmartini came to the United States in 1948. The 84-year-old started cycling at 55 when he reached retirement and currently rides with the Velo Avanti team out of Orange County, California.

    Dylan Lucas Gordon
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    Jerry LeVasseur -

    On July 6, 1944, Jerry LeVasseur went to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus in Hartford, Connecticut with his mom and his world turned upside down. The tent caught fire and 168 people died, including his mother, who had shielded him with her body. He was severely burned on his head and arms and he lost the tips of his fingers. After multiple surgeries he regained use of his hands. The now-76-year-old retired accountant and dogsled-racing champion defines himself as an accomplished senior athlete, having won more than 1,000 races in his age classes.

    Courtesy of National Senior Games
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    Flo Meiler -

    Flo Meiler, 79, is known as "the pole vaulting granny," but that designation does not do full justice. After all, the dynamo from Shelburne, Vermont only took up pole-vaulting at age 65 after spending five years mastering track races, hammer throw, high jump and javelin. Meiler has set 15 world records and has amassed more than 750 medals, 80 trophies and 150 ribbons as a senior athlete, including gold in the high jump, pole vault and triple jump and silver in the long jump and hammer at the 2013 National Senior Games. “For me, track and field is just like brushing my teeth or taking a shower,” Meiler said. “I wouldn’t be happy without it. It’s my life — I just love it.”

    Marvin Hill / Humana
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    Joe Johnston -

    Joe Johnston — or “Jumpin’ Joe,” as he’s known — is a pole vaulter from Apopka, Florida. The 70-year-old not only brought home the gold in the 2013 Senior Games Championship, but he also built his own fully functioning pole vaulting mega-dome in his backyard called the “Joe Dome.” He did not start pole vaulting until the age of 60.

    Katy Widrick / GrowingBolder.com
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    Vicki Fox -

    Three years ago, Vicki Fox of Huntington, New York had no idea she would be competing in track events, let alone finding herself winning gold in the 400-meter and bronze in the 1500-meter events at the 2013 National Senior Games in Cleveland. The 55-year-old decided to give track competition a try and has far exceeded her expectations. In March, Fox was named USA Track & Field's Long Island Female Athlete of the Year. "I want nothing more in this next phase of my life than to encourage older adults to start exercising, pick a sport or two, and simply get active," Fox said.

    Courtesy of Vicki Fox
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    Harold Bach -

    Harold Bach, 93, of Dickinson, North Dakota epitomizes strength and determination. Not only has he won gold medals in the 50-meter, 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter races, but he also beat a fast-moving cancer in his 80s and was able to return to running after intense rounds of chemotherapy treatments. Bach said he believes his focus on physical activity and health from a young age helped him to overcome his cancer and continue to participate in the Senior Games.

    Throughout the summer of 2014, each state is conducting qualifying events for athletes age 50 and up. To learn more about the National Senior Games, visit this website.

    Ted Wathen

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