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Reporter's Notebook: Photographers Find Senior Games Revealing

What he’s seen through the lens of his Canon camera in the past 10 days has shown Clayton Addison that there is life after 70.

As a student photojournalist covering the Senior Games, Addison, 27, has learned that older adults aren’t just grandparents, but individuals in their own right with vibrant lives and interests. He’s also seen proof, often breathtaking proof, that people more than twice his age can be nearly as swift and strong—and as determined— as younger athletes.

“There’s this phrase ‘young at heart,’ ” Addison says. “Well, these people aren’t just young at heart. They’re young in mind, young in soul, young in almost every way.”

A profound lesson

It’s been a different and more profound lesson than the ones Addison and 10 of his fellow students from the Brooks Institute, a photography school in Ventura, Calif., expected to learn when they signed on for Rick Rickman’s advanced visual journalism class this summer. The idea was for them to shoot the Senior Games and learn what Rickman, himself a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, calls “real world journalism … the practical stuff you don’t get in the classroom.”

But Rickman knew he was also offering them a chance to learn more than photography.

“In your 20s or 30s,” Rickman says, “you’re so myopic about being young, healthy and fit. When you see these older athletes and what they can do, it’s life-changing.” And eye-opening.

Generations mix

“My generation and their generation don’t have too much opportunity to mix,” says Aaron Poole, 27. “I don’t have a whole lot of familiar senior faces in my life. This has been a great opportunity to connect … and I’ve come to respect these people so much.”

In fact, Poole now has a Senior Games basketball team of 80- to 84-year-old women from Oklahoma as surrogate aunts. “They call themselves the Sooner Gals,” says Poole, who attended the University of Oklahoma—where students and alumni are known as Sooners—before coming to Brooks for photo training. “As soon as they found out I was a Sooner, they made me an honorary member of the team. I got to wear one of their sweatbands around.”

Young photographer “blown away”

The athletic prowess and fitness level of many of the Senior Games competitors have impressed the young photographers.

“Extremely humbling” is how 30-year-old Mariah Tauger describes it. “I’m blown away by these people,” says the photographer-in-training. “I mean, they could kick my butt all over town.” One female discus thrower she photographed left a particularly vivid impression. “Her abs were ridiculous,” Tauger says with a laugh. “I would be stoked if I had abs like that!”

Her classmate Patrick McDermott, 25, had an opportunity to photograph the games’ oldest competitor, 100-year-old tennis player Roger Gentilhomme of Falmouth, Mass., and to follow 95-year-old golfer Charles Young of McCall, Idaho, during his match last week. “Some of the shots he was making were shots you’d see people my age make,” says McDermott.

Addison says the good sportsmanship of the older athletes is as impressive as their skills and fitness. On Tuesday, he recalls, he shot the women’s 800-meter race, in which all ages ran together. “The younger women were faster, and when they finished they started to walk off,” Addison says. “One of them realized there was an older woman still running, the last one on the track. She said, ‘Girls, get back here.’ ”

All the women, Addison says, “got back on the track and cheered that last runner. And when she came through the finish line they all hugged. Heck, you wouldn’t see that in the Olympics.”

Health and fitness writer John Hanc teaches journalism at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury.

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