If you are over the age of 50, an enthusiastic Judy Thomas quickly will tell you the many advantages of participating in the State Senior Games — and winning a medal and qualifying for the National Senior Games are not even close to being among her top reasons for competing.

Thomas, a retired physical education teacher at Fairview High School, has been competing in the State Senior Games since 1999 and has three times qualified for the National Senior Games, including the recent games in Louisville. While she has long encouraged other older athletes to join her in competing, that encouragement has now become her passion.

The reason is simple: If you have ever considered competing in the State Senior Games, there is no better time than now to do so. That’s because the State Senior Games will be in Ashland in September and again in 2008.

For Thomas, competing in the games is not about winning and losing. “It helps keep me motivated to stay in shape,” she said of the games. “I don’t care how many years I do this, I’ll never win medals at the nationals. And I’m fine with it. It’s not about winning medals for me.”

In fact, Thomas said the main purpose of the Senior Games is to encourage those over 50 to exercise more. The games also are a great place to make lasting friendships as the same athletes compete year after year and cheer each other on.

There is no shortage of older athletes in this community. We can think of a number of individuals in their 70s and 80s who regularly jog, swim, play tennis and participate in other sports. Those are the people who should join the “kids” in their 50s and 60s in competing in the State Senior Games this September.

“I’d just like to encourage people to give it a try,” Thomas said of participating in the Senior Games. “There are lots of things they can compete in, even things like shuffle board or bowling. You don’t have to run the 100-yard dash, although you can if you want.”

Although some of us are in the right age group, we don’t promise to participate in the State Senior Games, but we do promise to cheer on area athletes who do. Go for it.

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