Alaska seniors test their skills at annual sports competition

Fairbanks games draw athletes from all over the state

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2007

FAIRBANKS - Tim Sander bent his knees slightly, swung his right arm behind him and chucked a bean bag to within inches of a coffee can that lay in the grass at Pioneer Park on Friday.

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A few more tosses led to a few more close calls. Clearly, the bean bag toss was not this gold medalist's event.

"I didn't get skunked," the 91-year-old retired Catholic priest said.

Sander is one of about 100 people older than 50 participating in the Alaska International Senior Games through Aug. 19.

The games draw elders statewide to Fairbanks every year for a week of competition in events ranging from checkers to a triathlon. The games started Friday at the North Pole High School with the track and field events.

Friday also featured the novelty games, including miniature golf, a Frisbee throw and a 100-yard walk. The novelty games serve as an icebreaker of sorts for the events to come.

Throughout the week, participants will compete for medals in bowling, badminton, volleyball, mountain biking, archery, swimming, shooting and more.

Every other year, the best athletes from Alaska travel Outside to compete with seniors from other states.

Sander, the oldest competitor this year, said he has collected at least 60 gold medals since Alaska joined the Senior Games in 2003.

Sander is a regular competitor in the track and field events, including the shot putt, the standing long jump and the javelin.

Some years, Sander said he is the only person competing in his age bracket.

"I get a gold medal without too much competition," he said.

Marie Burnett, an 83-year-old retired housekeeper, likes to compete in horseshoes, she said.

Burnett played horseshoes as a child and taught her own children.

"It was one of our main games," Burnett said.

The nail driving event attracted a number of seasoned hammer swingers. The competitors were timed as they pounded three nails into a block of wood.

Lucille Reese, 79, hammered the nails in 14 seconds. She honed her hammering skills building houses, she said.

"We built our first home in Hamilton Acres in 1949 and 1950," Reese said. "The one we are in now, we started building 20 years ago and we still aren't finished."

Don Wells, a 62-year-old retired electrician, won the event with a time of seven seconds.

"When I was a kid, I was a petunia box builder," Wells said.

Peggy Birkenbuel, a 69-year-old teacher, collected a gold medal for her score, 44, in the 18-hole miniature golf competition.

"She was the Tiger Woods," said Peggy Bennett, 60, who is retired from the Golden Valley Electric Association.

All of the competitors in the novelty events won medals.

"We're going to have to go to the chiropractor tomorrow for the weight around our necks," said Ritchie Musick, a 66-year-old retired teacher.

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