Games of the heart

By Joe Stumpe

You could get tired just watching Claire Overstake at a track meet. Her specialty is running – especially sprints and hurdles – but she also throws the shotput and javelin, competes in the 200, 400 and 800-meter events and learned to pole vault when she was 50.

“Everything, I guess,” Overstake said when asked to name her favorite event. “Except I really don’t like distance” races.

The 62-year-old middle school teacher and other seniors will showcase their athleticism during this year’s Heartland Games, which take place over the course of three months. 

About 500 seniors are expected to take part in one or more of the events, which are open to anybody 50 and up, said Chris Heiman, development director for Senior Services.

“In the past we’ve had an 85-year-old shot putter, a 78-year-old sprinter and an 82-year-old pickleball player,” Heinman said. 

Overstake is one of many Heartland participants who enjoy their sport year-round. She and her husband, Grant, train during the week and compete in as many track meets as they can on weekends. “We do it as a way to keep fit and have fun,” she said. 

“It’s a really good way to make friends,” she said. “It’s not ‘I’m going to beat you.’ It’s ‘let’s shake hands and have a blast.’                     

“Everybody can do something. Even if you can’t run, you can throw a shot put, or do the standing long 

Retired attorney Hank Blase,74,  has run the Heartland pickleball tournament in past years but will get to compete this year. He was introduced to the game in 2002, while suffering from a heart condition that limited his physical activity to walking. He was at Orchard Park Senior Center when he saw a game of pickleball taking place. 

“A guy puts a paddle in my lap and says get out there and try. It was fun, interesting, challenging.”

Six months later, he went to the cardiologist. “I’d lost 25 pounds and my numbers were good. He said ‘what have you been doing?’  ‘Playing pickleball.’  I told my wife I’ve got to keep playing, doctor’s orders. Now she’s playing with me.”

Joe Hoover, 73, a retired property technician has been taking part in masters track meets almost 20 years.

He considers the triple jump his best event. Hoover and friend Steve Wilson train together and then to beat each other. 

To practice hurdles, the two often go to tracks at Wichita State University or Friends. They have practice hurdles that can be lowered from the normal 30-inch height to 27 inches.

Wilson isn’t the only senior athlete Hoover is on awe of.  “One gal comes from Iowa,” he said. “She’s 65 and she can pole vault nine feet. Incredible.”

But like Overstake, Hoover said the games are more about celebrating fitness and camaraderie than victory. 

“People will help you beat them. If you’re triple jumping, they’ll say ‘you’re way off the (starting line), you need to move your mark up.’  People are real good about helping each other.”

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