Athletes ready for action

A theme runs through the stories of the lives of several people who participate in the Blair County Senior Olympics.

A lot of them have been active in sports all their lives. But even if you’re a couch potato, there’s an event in Senior Olympics that you can do, organizers and participants said. There’s a bunch of “intellectual games” including pinochle, a word search and trivia, plus some other events that those who aren’t in the best shape shouldn’t find too taxing, they said.

“There’s even Wii bowling,” said Bill Harshman, who’s participated in the Senior Olympics for several years, referring to the video game that mimics sports.

The Senior Olympics run from May 30 through June 26 at various locations in the county. Some of the categories are traditional Olympic sports, such as swimming and track and field. At the end of the competition, bronze, silver and gold medals will be awarded to the winners. If they choose, the winners may compete at the state and national Senior Olympic levels.

The main goal for the Blair County Senior Olympics is to engage seniors in fellowship through sporting and other leisure activity events, said Scott Clapper, Blair Senior Services facility coordinator. The competition is open to any senior and not limited to Blair County residents, he said.

“It’s a community-based event that tries to bring everyone out so that we can all come together and help people get out of the house who might not normally participate in something like this,” Clapper said.

Bert Lear, 80, is one of those people who has been active all her life. At the Senior Olympics, she will not only chair the ladies golf event, she plans to participate in 15 events herself, including the football and softball throws and pinochle.

Lear has participated in the Senior Olympics for five years. She coached a grade school girls basketball team for 30 years and described herself as a tomboy growing up. She lived with five brothers and four sisters and was always playing sports with her brothers.

“It makes the month of June something to look forward to,” said Lear, who is also a volunteer at Blair Senior Services.

Lear, who lives in Altoona, said she first started competing in Senior Olympics when another volunteer at Blair Senior Services told her about it.

“I like the challenge of it, and I like the people,” she said. “The people are very nice.”

It’s the people who keep Harshman, 67, coming back year after year.

“I’d like to think that when I check out of this world, I’ll leave in a happier frame of mind, and it will be because of meeting people like the people I meet there,” he said.

Harshman, a retired vocational agriculture teacher, said he has been active from the time he was born, growing up on a farm. He even continues to work in agriculture with Penn State University.

Harshman plans to compete in the track and field events as well as the archery and basketball events. He first heard about the Senior Olympics from a good friend who was involved in the competition. As someone who stays in shape, Harshman said he doesn’t need too much preparation.

“I run year round,” he said.

The story is the same for Gary Rhodes of Altoona, 74. He is so athletic-minded that he will forego the running events this year to compete in a triathlon elsewhere. He is not totally opting out of Senior Olympics. He will be the men’s swimming chairman for the events.

Rhodes is a retired school teacher who taught science in five area school districts, including the Altoona Area School District and also at Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School. When he was growing up, he decided to become physically fit because the rest of his family was not, he said.

“My entire family was what you’d call ‘pleasingly plump,’ and everybody kept telling me I’d end up just like them,” he said.

Since then, Rhodes has stayed in shape, competing in triathlons and placing third in the state Senior Olympics a few years ago, he said. Most of the seniors didn’t go on to the national competitions because they are too expensive, he said.

But at the local and regional levels, they enjoy being with other active people, Rhodes said.

“I just like being with other people who are health-conscious,” he said.

For more information about the Senior Olympics, call Blair Senior Services at 946-1235 or log onto the agency’s website to register at