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Documentary Shows Senior Athletes Going For the Gusto
11/09/2012   Reported By: Tom Porter
Production Still from Age of Champions

There was a time when retirement was seen as a reward for a long life of hard work, and a chance to rest, and relax. But for a growing number of older Americans, golf and backgammon just aren't enough.

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Senior Athletes Go For the Gusto in Documentary Listen

That's 86-year Adolph Hoffman from Somerset, Texas perfecting his pole vaulting techniques in preparation for the 2009 national senior games in California - an event which attracted more than 10,000 athletes.

He's one of a handful of superannuated athletes profiled in a new documentary called Age of Champions, which is being screened in Portland this weekend.

"I realize that I"m getting old and that most people my age are six foot under the ground instead of trying to pole vault six foot or better," Hoffman said in the documentary.

Hoffman, who's still competing, went on to win seven medals at the 2009 senior games, including a gold in the pole vault. But his best was yet to come: at the National Senior Games in Houston last year, he won 10 gold medals.

"Any kind of game I play, you're out to win, and I participate in about 13 events," Hoffman said in the film.

"Just hearing about the existence of the senior Olympics just shattered my expectations of aging," said Filmmaker Keith Ochwat.

Keith Ochwat, "Age of Champions" ProducerHe is the producer of "Age of Champions." He said that he and director Christopher Rufo were surprised at just how competitive these older athletes are. He cited the case of a 100-year-old tennis player who was preparing for the games, and issued a challenge to the two young producers. "He challenged us to a doubles match with his 94-year doubles partner, and Chris and I, who were both 26 at the time, accepted the challenge and didn't take it seriously and before we knew it we'd lost," Ochwat said.

Of course, this competitive drive is found in older people all over the world, and here in Maine.

"Well, we had one athlete this year who's mid-70s, I'm guessing, tremendous athlete, has overcome an incredible amount in his life and is now just undergoing treatment for cancer, and had a treatment and went a did a 5-K road race the same day," said 67-year Jo Dill, a retired teacher from Lyman, she is co-ordinator for the Maine Senior Games, an annual event for athletes aged 50 or more which this year attracted over 600 participants.

Dill's game is basketball, which, she took up competitively 9 years ago in her late 50s.

"I have always maintained that exercise in the magic pill and I really feel that it's kept my arthritis and everything else at bay," Dill said. "I feel so much better. I feel as good as I did when I was in my 30s."

"I would say that the way people age is changing every day," said John Hennessy. He is advocacy director for the Maine branch of the AARP.

He said whether it's competing in organized games, or being physically active in other ways, older people, are staying younger, longer.

"Maine people tend to be more outdoorsy, and more engaged with the environment," Hennessy said. "And doing healthy things just comes natural to a lot of these folks."

As for Maine senior athlete Jo Dill, she's preparing to head to Cleveland, Ohio next summer, where she'll be competing, as a member of Maine pioneers basketball team, in her 4th national senior games.

"To celebrate my gold medal, I'll have a couple of good gin and tonics and a nice meal with good company," Dill said.

The documentary "Age of Champions" will be screened at USM's Abromson Center in Portland on Sunday, November 11 at 1:30 pm. It will be followed by a discussion on healthy aging, led by Jo Dill and the film's director Christopher Rufo.

Next July, the film will be shown on PBS, ahead of the national senior games.

Visit the Age of Champions documentary website.


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