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Athletes Provide a New Definition for Active Seniors

Annual competition displays prowess

It was early morning, and the guy who has had a left hip replacement and two rotator cuff surgeries was out on the football field at Coolidge High School, ready for action.

Although his gridiron days have long since passed, Mel Craig, 71, is among 120 seniors competing in the Golden Olympics, a week-long event run by the D.C. Parks and Recreation Department. Events included archery, basketball, billiards, track and field events and a host of other activities.

This is the 26th year for the Golden Olympics, the 12th in which Craig has participated. The opening ceremonies took place Monday at the Emery Recreation Center on Georgia Avenue NW. The games, which are being held at recreation centers around the District, will conclude tomorrow.

Craig is typical of many participants, for whom being in the Olympics is more important than winning a gold medal.

"I read up on the Golden Olympics a few years back and thought I'd follow up on it," Craig said. "My goal is to be as active for as long as I possibly can."

Despite being under doctor's orders not to run, Craig more than held his own in the football throwing contest and shot put, in which his top throw was 25 feet. (In contrast, the actual Olympic winner in Beijing last summer, Poland's Tomasz Majewski, threw the shot put 70 feet 7 inches.)

"I'd rather be doing this than sitting around doing nothing," said Craig, who has won gold and silver medals at least eight times and was the top male athlete in last year's games. Craig also plays competitive senior league softball.

The Golden Olympics are a celebration of being active, said Michele Molotsky, director of the senior service division for D.C. Parks and Recreation.

"There's a saying: Do you train to race or race to train?" Molotsky said. "Most of the people competing here in the Golden Olympics are physically active year-round. People [in this age demographic] who just jump up once a year can hurt themselves. Everyone here participates in physical activities daily."

Constance Fields, 66, of Northeast has competed in the Golden Olympics for the past nine years on the advice of a fitness teacher she knew.

She won the 50-meter dash with ease, reflecting her history as a high school track and field athlete. From there, it was straight to the women's football toss and the shot put. She topped off the day competing in the 100-meter dash, long jump and bowling.

"I feel good," she said. "I get a little nervous now, because each year I see more and more people, so I know I have to work harder."

Deloris Aldridge, 76, of Brentwood runs at least three miles a day, six days a week with the running club she founded in her Northeast neighborhood. Yesterday was her second straight Golden Olympics. She will compete in the national trials in San Francisco this summer.

Aldridge, while nearing the end of her 12-lap run, misheard an official; she thought she had one more lap to go and ended up running one more around the track.

Still, she beat her time from a year ago, clocking in this year at 41:46.

"I just keep running. That's all I know," Aldridge said. "I'm going to run until I can't. I'm 76, but sometimes I feel 26. If I had to crawl around the track, I'd be happy as long as I'm healthy."

When asked whether she was competing in any other events after her 13-lap run, Aldridge smiled and said, "Oh, no, I'm done for the day."

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