Going for the gold in their golden years

Senior athletes have fun, get fit with Michigan Senior Olympics

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published May 14, 2014

 Senior swimmers raced for gold during the 2013 Michigan Senior Olympics Summer Games.

Senior swimmers raced for gold during the 2013 Michigan Senior Olympics Summer Games.

File photo by Bruce Beck

METRO DETROIT — Michele Monson, of Milford, is glad to have a few nights of rest. Just days ago, she was stuck inside an arena watching hockey players speed back and forth across the ice in a three-day-long hockey tournament.

But Monson, creeping up on 70 years old, was hardly a spectator. She’s part of the Michigan Senior Women’s Hockey League, and she was on the ice helping her teammates take the top spot in the competition.

“That was so exciting. We were so proud to be out there to play, and our team (name) is on that cup now,” said Monson. “We played hard, and it really could’ve done either way. It was just an honor to be there.”

The tournament was part of the larger Michigan Senior Olympics organization, which hosts events throughout the year where athletes 50 and older compete in a variety of events, from swimming, golf, volleyball, track and field, ice hockey, and everything in between. This was the first time the women’s hockey league had a tournament, according to MSO Executive Director Becky Ridky.

“It was fantastic. We had over 60 women on four different teams,” she said. “Ted Lindsay came out and passed out medals to the championship team.”

MSO, based in Rochester, is open to athletes from all over Michigan and even competitors from out of state. The organization is celebrating its 35th anniversary and boasts more than 1,000 athletes. Ridky said the group’s mission is to promote an overall healthy lifestyle for seniors who might be letting their fitness — or even their social lives — fall by the wayside.

“Preventative health care is really big right now, and this is great for preventative health care,” said Ridky. “Some compete for their own personal best, or for the fun of it. Others train all year and are really serious. But there’s something for everyone.”

Monson said, overall, the league includes hundreds of women on 39 teams. She’s a winger for the Polar Bears.

Even though she’s proud of her team’s win, she insists the league — or any MSO sport, for that matter — is for fun.

“A lot of women are coming out of retirement because there’s a place for them to play, while other women just never had the opportunity to play. We’ve got all levels,” she said. “They may have started because they wanted to exercise or were just conned into it by someone else, but they don’t quit. They love it. They only quit when the doctor says they can’t do it anymore.”

Even though some might see seniors as being too fragile for competitive sports, there’s a seemingly endless roster of athletes who participate in the MSO games. The group will host a golf tournament from June 11-13 at Twin Lake Golf Course, and the big summer games are scheduled for Aug. 6-17, 23-24 at various locations. This list of events is huge — kayaking, archery, cycling, bowling, powerlifting and so much more. MSO is still looking for volunteers and sponsors for that event.

Lisa Hypnar, of Rochester Hills, has plenty of experience with the summer games. In fact, as a US Master swimmer, she’s qualified for the National Senior Olympic games.

She swims about four or five times a week to keep her skills sharp. Monson, on the other hand, doesn’t practice. She hits the ice with the other ladies and does her best.

“At 50 and 60 (years old), if you haven’t learned what off-sides is now, it’s just never going to click,” she said with a laugh.

Both ladies agree, though, that the MSO competitions are more about fun than anything else.

“The competition is for me — it’s to improve my previous times,” said Hypnar, who is currently training for the Canadian Nationals. “It’s the personal challenge. For some people, MSO is a great place to remain active because of all the different events you can compete in. It sort of brings the kid back in you. But what’s even bigger is the camaraderie you have.”

Hypnar said she would encourage any senior to get involved if they’re interested.

“Just do it. I think what I’ve learned is that if you wait until you think you’re good enough, you’ll never do it. If nothing else, it gives you a nudge to pursue tsomething you were passionate about at one time, now that you have the time to do it.”

The same goes for Monson, fresh off her victory. She said she’s just glad to play and meet new friends.

“We could’ve been sitting home doing laundry or dishes or something. This is so much more fun,” she said. “It’s the truth; we’re just so lucky to be out there. Every day,   there’s a chance that something is going to hurt or fall off and you can’t do it anymore. So we’re all just happy to be on the ice.”

To learn more about the Michigan Senior Olympics and the many sporting events offered, visit www.MichiganSeniorOlympics.org or call (248) 608-0250.