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THE COMPETITIVE SPIRIT ATHLETES HONE THEIR SKILLS TO MAKE A RUN FOR THE GOLD IN THE STATE'S SENIOR GAMES

Several times a week, Larry Childers, 71, churns up water in the pool at the William-Emslie YMCA.
Then he turns his attention to the Nautilus machines.

Childers, a retired postal employee, has a goal: to add to his medal collection from the New York State Parks Senior Games -- he has two gold medals, five silver and two blue ribbons from previous games.

The 12th annual Senior Games will be held this year on the campus of Cortland State College from June 9 to 12. Last year, the Games attracted nearly 1,200 participants from around the state -- 116 of them from Erie County, making it one of the best-represented areas.

During the weekend, competitors will try to whomp each other on basketball courts, on softball fields, in swimming pools and on racetracks. At least in the competitive division.

The strongest and fittest will enter a triathlon, where they will swim 400 meters, cycle 20 kilometers and run five kilometers.

Or they can follow a more relaxed pace in the recreational division, with pocket billiards, golf, swimming, tennis, horseshoes and other games that are played for the sheer fun of it.

The motto for these Games is, "You don't stop playing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing."

Some athletes, among them Alexander Parsons Jr., 72, live by that motto.

"As I get older, I just want to keep in shape," said Parsons, who has won medals in swimming and table tennis.

Many have gotten into sports after retirement or to get more exercise after health problems. The largest group of competitors (279) from last year's games were in the 65-to-69 age bracket, according to statistics supplied by Helen Wallace Fitzgerald, the Games' promotion coordinator.

Although Anna Lyman of the Town of Tonawanda hadn't touched a badminton racket in more than 40 years, she started playing with her husband, Donald, in 1987 after he had a heart attack.

"I play for fun," said Mrs. Lyman, who is 61. "I like the exercise. My husband is the competitive one."

Besides going to the Senior Games, they represented New York State at the U.S. National Senior Sports Classic in Baton Rouge, La., last year, and they've been invited to the 1995 games in San Antonio, Texas. For serious competitors, this is New York State's only qualifying competition for the Senior Sports Classic.

The Senior Games, which number up to 40 athletic events, clinics and other recreational activities, are open to New York residents who are 55 or older. Competitors are grouped into their age categories, starting from 55 to 59. Last year there were 39 over age 80.

Along with the Games, there is fun.

"Of all the thing I've done, this is one of the best," said Joan Magin, a part-time employee with the Town of Tonawanda Senior Center, who teaches line dancing and is participating for the eighth time. "It's fun and it shows that people still can do these things."

Helen Roddy Gray, part of the William-Emslie contingent, enjoys all aspects of the weekend, which includes clinics on bait casting, Frisbee throw and "crazy boccie," along with classes on line dancing, nutrition and yoga.

"It's fresh, clean air," she said. "A chance to meet other senior citizens in the state. And I love sports and the fun of winning."

The Senior Games began in 1983 with 300 competitors. But they were nearly canceled in 1992 and 1993 because the state eliminated the funding, according to Debbie Keville, director of the Games. That really got organizers and participants riled up. They held fund-raising events (the William-Emslie Y will hold a disco on Friday, for example) and got corporate sponsorship to keep the Games going. And they protested to legislators and decision makers.

"The seniors made it well-known that they want this," said Ms. Keville. This year the state budget includes $50,000 for Games funding.

"My best guess is that we're on solid footing, because I don't think the money would have been restored if it wasn't the intent to do this for the foreseeable future," she said. "I'm hopeful, but there is no guarantee, and that's why we keep up our search for corporate sponsors."

Individual registration is $25. Competitors can stay in the Cortland dormitory rooms for $19 per night for a single room, $14 per person for a double. Meals are served in the Ice Arena and can be purchased for reasonable prices (breakfast, for example, is $4).

Some competitors stay at motels in town and have their meals at local restaurants.

A corps of more than 400 volunteers officiate at athletic events and help with registration. Evenings are filled with the entertainment from singing and dancing groups, and the weekend closes with a dinner dance with big band music, all tailored for the older, active person.

The deadline for applications is Monday. For information or to request an application, call (800) 342-9871 or 858-8526.

A local version of the Senior Games, called the Senior Olympics, will be held Sept. 12 to 16 under sponsorship of the Salvation Army. Opening ceremonies will be held at Delaware Park. Events include a race walk, nine holes of golf, miniature golf, Frisbee throwing, swimming, bowling, horseshoes, bocce and a tai chi demonstration. Scrabble, bridge, chess and checkers are also offered.

The event is open to anyone 55 and older and there is a $5 registration fee. To register, call coordinator Pamela Krawczyk at 883-9800, Ext. 270.

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