The Golden Games of St. Charles County celebrated its 30th anniversary this year – and a few of those who competed May 6-13 can boast that they were there on that spring day in 1987 when the games began.
Every year, the games draw over 600 participants, with most being local but some traveling long distances to attend. It’s apparent that the St. Charles community agrees with Abraham Lincoln, who said, “It’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”
The most popular games of the Golden Games are bowling, pickleball, golf and volleyball. The more unique games are classified as specialty events and include the washer toss, casting with a rod and reel [players are judged for distance and accuracy], disc throw and football throw. Other events include archery, basketball free throw, basketball hot shot, three-point shot, bridge, cycling, darts, miniature golf, horseshoes, long jump, pinochle, shot put, shuffleboard, skeet, soccer kick, swimming, table tennis, track, trap, Wii bowling and Wii golf.
Never too old to try
Robert Maschal, 90, was the oldest competitor at the Golden Games this year and also the only participant in his age group [90-95]. He has been active in the games for over 12 years, but this is the first year he has participated in the speciality events. When Maschal was 85, he ranked No. 1 in the world in his division for the javelin throw. His distance was over 20 meters.
This year, Maschal participated in the long jump – running and standing, shot put, discus, casting, disc throw, soccer kick, football throw and softball throw. He also competed in track and field, basketball, table tennis and bowling. To train for the Golden Games, he said he goes to the gym several times a week where he walks for an hour, rides a bike and lifts weights.
When asked if his fellow participants were competitive, Maschal replied, “There are always a few that are competitive, but everyone is friendly. I think each year they are just glad to see that you’re still alive.”
As a quarterback in high school, Maschal said he loved being athletic and was always active. However, after going into the Air Force at age 17, he got into unhealthy habits and started gaining weight. “I ate a burger and beer every night for dinner,” he said. “I wasn’t making great choices.” His weight got up to 260 pounds by the time he was in his 30s.
After seeing his grandparents struggle with obesity, Maschal made a decision to change his life. He began running daily and quickly lost 100 pounds. Unfortunately, a stomach aneurysm forced him to stop long-distance running, but it didn’t stop him from pursuing his goal to stay healthy.
Maschal improvised and exercised in other ways. He bought a small trampoline and implemented exercises into his daily routine. He kept the weight off by continuing to live a healthy lifestyle that continues to this day. His wife, Dorothy, said, “I have never met a more dedicated person in my life. He has willpower like I’ve never seen. If he’s going to do something, he will do it 100 percent.”
Maschal encourages others to live similarly and invites friends to get involved in the Golden Games, but his enthusiasm for life is an invitation in itself.
“Give it whirl, you’ll meet a great bunch of people, but you have to be willing to do it. People have to want to get off their butts and do something and if they don’t, you’re wasting your time. Maybe they are happy in front of the TV, so just leave them alone,” he said with a smile.
Maschal has some advice for the younger set, too.
“When you’re done with school, don’t lie down. Go to work. Start walking or playing in town sports, baseball, soccer, whatever you can. Do it, keep doing it and don’t quit,” he said. “It is great to be able to move when you get up here [in your senior years]. Most people I see my age have difficulty walking.
“The big thing is the gray matter. When that starts going, you know it and I know it. I can still grasp enough. I’m not to the wandering stage yet.”
It doesn’t look like he will get to that stage anytime soon. He said he is already looking forward to another successful Golden Games next year.
Ambassador of Pickleball
In the 80-85 age group, Lake Saint Louis residents Galen Bird and his wife, Linda, said they have been coordinating the pickleball event for the last four years. No wonder. Galen is known around the area as the Ambassador of Pickleball. He holds clinics several times a year to teach all ages, young and old, how to play one of the fastest growing sports in America.
“It’s very rewarding to have the St. Charles Golden Games,” Galen said. “It brings people here to showcase our fabulous community. It’s just a lot of fun for everybody.
Galen encourages everyone to try a new sport, regardless of age, because he said that he wasn’t very athletic in his youth aside from playing a little tennis. Now, he plays pickleball three to four times a week for three to four hours per session and also works out at the gym weekly.
He and Linda said they love getting people into the game of pickleball and have made it a hobby they do together. Galen is hopeful there will be even more players competing against him at the Golden Games next year.
“Try the game, it’s the most fun of any game I’ve ever played,” he urged.A little friendly competition
Ed True and Ron Jelinek met at the St. Louis area’s first Golden Games 30 years ago and have been friends ever since. Now, Ron’s son also participates in the games each year.
“Ed and I have been doing this for many years and we are going to keep on doing it as long as we can,” Ron said.
The two friends have over 2,000 medals between the two of them dating back to 1987. Ed and Ron, who traveled to St. Charles from Illinois, said they try to get friends to come with them to compete in the games but that it has been harder the older they get.
“Unfortunately we don’t get a lot of people that want to play but we think if they try it out ,they will get hooked,” Ron said.
They both agree that they want to continue meeting up at the Golden Games as long as possible. “I’ve been athletic my whole life and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon,” Ed said.
Charlotte Melizener, Linda Meyer, Julie Gomez and Sharon Dunn claimed the gold medal at the Golden Games’ executive golf games at Pheasant Run. They have all played together in previous years.“The Golden Games events range from how far can you throw a softball to real olympic competitive sports. You can create personal goals for yourself, too,” Melizener said.
Melizener joked that although it’s nice to have competition with a group similar in ages, that doesn’t always mean you can assume the outcome. She once walked a senior 5K that she thought would just be a jaunt around the lake, but once she got there, she realized everyone was obviously taking it more serious than she was.
“They were in track suits! A 90 year-old woman flew by me. I just couldn’t keep up with her,” Melizener laughed.
Her experience was echoed by many participants at the Golden Games, but all said the social aspect and size of the competition is the best part.
“We meet a lot of really nice people and the attitudes are fantastic,” Melizener said. “People are still with it and energetic and looking forward to the next day.”
Melizener, Meyer, Gomez and Dunn see each other just once a year – at the Golden Games. But they get along so well that they have planned on getting together in the past. This year, they made a promise to each other that they will get together during the year to golf and stay in touch.
Maybe playing sports or competing athletically isn’t for everyone, but when it comes to life lessons, it’s hard to argue with voices that hold such wisdom.
Maschal and others said it’s not too early to start training for May 2018. The only requirement is that participants must be at least 50 years old by April of the year of the games. Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are awarded in each age group. Registration will appear on the games’ website [www.sccgoldengames.org] as next year’s event draw near.