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San Diego Senior Olympians Carry The Torch

September 27, 2011 1:11 p.m.

A group of seniors prove getting old doesn't mean you can't compete in sports.

Related Story: San Diego Senior Olympians Carry The Torch


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. As the middle aged begin to feel an ache here and a pain there , the temptation may be to give up on strenuous activity. You might think that kind of thing is best left to the young. The age range of kids who are at their peek, like Olympic athletes. Right now in San Diego, we're learning there are all types of Olympic athletes, are the senior Olympics is under way. Anyone under 50 can participate, but even even the most enthusiastic athletes are in their 70s, easy, and 90s. Codi Thompson is captain of the San Diego splash. And welcome to the show.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Audrey Tootie White, is coplayer with the San Diego splash. And welcome
WHITE: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: On the line, Christopher Rufo, author of the documentary, age of champions. Hi.
RUFO: Good to be with you.
CAVANAUGH: Let me start with you, Codi. What sport do you play?
THOMPSON: We play basketball, believe it or not.
CAVANAUGH: And it's rude of me to ask but how old are you?
THOMPSON: I'm question, going on 84.
CAVANAUGH: And how old are your players?
THOMPSON: We're all 80 and over on our team, the Splash team is composed of 80-plus players. And it's -- we do it this way because of senior Olympics, it's five-year age groups
CAVANAUGH: So in order for all of you to qualify in one age group, you all have to be in your 80s. Tootie, you of course play on the Splash as well. Do you change the contact rules of basketball any because of your age?
WHITE: No. We just think they should be nicer to us. But we have to fight just as hard as the first year-olds.
CAVANAUGH: How long have you been playing basketball?
WHITE: Oh, about 14 years
CAVANAUGH: Really. So this was not a lifelong thing that you loved or anything like that.
WHITE: No, no. And when I grew up, and in school, women weren't playing basketball in our small town. The boys played basketball. The girls were the cheerleaders.
CAVANAUGH: Do you have a history of playing basketball, Codi?
THOMPSON: No, I sure wanted to. But the year between my seventh and 8th grade, I grew up in Oregon, they decreed that girls would not play competitive basketball anymore. They would play volleyball. And the boys played basketball.
CAVANAUGH: So you just had to wait a little while.
THOMPSON: Yeah. Till I was 67.
CAVANAUGH: Christopher Rufo, I want to bring you in on the conversation, for those who haven't heard much about the senior Olympics, can you tell us what kinds of sports are played?
RUFO: Sure. The senior Olympics is everything from basketball to pole vaulting, soccer, tennis, and all the Olympic sports, track and field, and you would think something like pole vaulting went be for seniors, but there are pole vaulters breaking world records well into their 90s
CAVANAUGH: You directed age of champions, it's a documentary film appearing here in San Diego on Saturday. How did you become involved in this project?
WHITE: I heard about the senior Olympics 3 or 4 years ago, and as soon as I heard that they existed, I was immediately interested. And then when you find out what kind of sports they play, I was more interested. And finally when we sent out a casting call to all 12,000 athletes that participate in the nationals and we started to meet the people, hear their stories, see people like Roger in the film, who's 100 years old, and competing in tennis or Adolf who's 86 and pole vaulting, and seeing their rivalries, and their intense passions and competitiveness, we knew that there was a film to be made. And we set out to make it.
CAVANAUGH: How do you explain someone having an intense passion for tennis at the age of 100?
WHITE: I think it boils down in this case Roger has just an intense passion for life. He gets up every morning, and he has knells. He's looking forward to something. He loves competing, he loves being out in the crowd. He loves the attention. And it's kind of the attitude that they all have. The San Diego Splash or any of the players in the senior Olympics, they're still striving, despite their age they still have goals, they're still looking forward to something. And it's kind of a -- a nice notch to make when you can break a world record as an older adult
CAVANAUGH: I would imagine so. And a 100-year-old tennis player that you featured, he's pretty darn good
WHITE: He's actually really good. I hate to admit it on the radio, but during one of the shooting breaks, the produce and I played him and his 87-year-old tennis partner in a match of doubles and they actually beat us 6-1.
CAVANAUGH: Tootie, how did you get involved in the senior Olympics?
WHITE: Oh, I'd been invited to a baby shower. And gen Kessler who was our first director happened to be there, a relative of the lady that was pregnant. And we were just sitting around and talking, and all of a sudden gen Kessler started talking about basketball. And that was right about the time it had started. So my ears perked up, and I was ready to go.
CAVANAUGH: Is it hard to get-together a basketball team, Codi, of women who are over 80?
THOMPSON: Well, it was. The more publicity we got, the easier it became. We got some pretty good publicity from different times. Especially when the -- excuse me, the local senior Olympics occur. And incidentally, we have to go from there to the state senior Olympics, and then to get to nationals.
CAVANAUGH: Which you won.
THOMPSON: Which we won last time. We have been there now every other year, we started playing in the nationals in 97, we've played every year, every other year since then. And we have ourselves six gold medals, and two silver medals
CAVANAUGH: What do your family and friends, I'm going to ask cory first, what do your family and friends say about this?
THOMPSON: My brother thinks it's great. That's the only relative I really have.
CAVANAUGH: Some of your friends say, basically, you shouldn't be doing this?
THOMPSON: Oh, no. I have not had anyone including my doctors tell me not to do it.
THOMPSON: Go after it, do it because you love it.
CAVANAUGH: Have you heard any negative comment, Tootie?
WHITE: Not really. My children come and watch our game often, and -- but my brother says, when are we going to stop playing? And I went to the doctor one time, and I said my knee is really bad. And he said, are you still playing basketball? With that tone of voice. So -- so I haven't complained to him anymore
CAVANAUGH: You just don't tell him anymore. You both talked about the time when you were growing up when girls weren't necessarily encouraged to go into athletics. I'm interested in what you think about how the world has changed now in your lifetimes to see so many really important athletes who are female. Who'd like to take that first? Codi.
THOMPSON: All I can say is hooray for title nine! That made all the difference in the world. It was gradual. But now it's amazing to me, of course, what you see in the papers, see on TV, hear about that women's sports seem to be accepted very well now for most people, at least.
CAVANAUGH: And of course, Tootie, in the past, the whole idea of being an athlete was considered unfeminine.
WHITE: I never worried about that. I was always kind of like on the tomboy side.
CAVANAUGH: Christopher in your documentary, age of champion, there's a scene where a senior athlete is being taken out of a game on a stretcher. Is senior athletics, is the senior Olympics actually a dangerous activity for older people?
WHITE: It can be dangerous. Of course, any kind of sport, especially when you have some years on you, could be dangerous. But what kind of sets out these athletes is they go at it hard. They're competitive, they have rivalry, and they have an intense desire to win. Some teams play a little dirtier, and there are some injuries, there are some kind of bitter feelings toward some of the players. But that's part of sports, and despite the danger, what sets these athletes apart is their desire to go at it and dive for the basketball or keep jumping and running and competing.
CAVANAUGH: You know, I have to admit that when I saw the trailer for your documentary, there's this scene where you have sort of a frontal shot of the 86-year-old pole vaulter who's running with the pole, trying -- you know, just about to make his vault. And I must admit I said to myself oh, no! Because I really thought this man was going to injure himself. Is that a common sort of reaction?
WHITE: It really is. I felt that way the first time seeing it. You see a gentleman in his older '80s, and he's trying to launch himself with a bending stick eight feet in the air. That's the world record in his age group, which he's trying to beat. So it's a little bit scary. I'm not sure I would do it, you know? I'm only 27. So -- it's impressive. It's amazing. And it shows the dedication and fearlessness of these competitors
CAVANAUGH: I must tell everyone, he was perfectly fine. Made a beautiful vault over the bar. Christopher?
WHITE: Can you say again? I didn't hear you
CAVANAUGH: I just wanted to let everybody know that the pole vaulter was just fine.
WHITE: Oh, no. He's a tough guy. Adolf is a Texas cattle rancher. He actually competes in another local competition where he picks up a 300-pound rock and throws it about a foot or two.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. That's something. You've seen the documentary haven't you,uty? Do you think it adequately represents your fellow athletes in the senior Olympics?
WHITE: Yes, I have seen the documentary. And it was interesting because there was quite a bit of basketball with a famous Louisiana team, one of the teams down there. And it was interesting. And then it showed some track and several of the different things show throwing -- what is that called?
WHITE: Yeah. We do lose our memory occasionally
CAVANAUGH: I couldn't think of it either. Cory, what kind of competition does the San Diego Splash have? Can you tell us a little bit about the other teams that you compete against?
THOMPSON: Yes, year-round we play in the senior women's basketball association's leagues at the Y in mission valley. And our competitors are from age 50 up to 79
CAVANAUGH: So some of them are almost 30 years younger than you?
THOMPSON: They're much younger. There are approximately, sometimes 20, 22 teams playing. And they usually schedule us against players our own age or newcomers to the league.
CAVANAUGH: I wonder if you would tell us, starting with you, cory, what do you get out of participating in this sport?
THOMPSON: Well, I get being physically fit is one thing. I don't care much for machines and so forth. But I do love to play basketball. So it's easy to want to stay active. The companionship, friendship that we have with each, with the fact if you need help, you know you've got someone who will help you.
CAVANAUGH: And basically sort of winning a medal doesn't hurt.
THOMPSON: I tell you, we have so many. But the national ones are the ones that really count as far as we're concerned. And I told you about those. How many we had. And so forth. Even in the state we don't have competition in our own age group
THOMPSON: But when we went to the nationals in Houston last year, there were five teams in the United States that were 80-plus. And we almost didn't win. But we did. We got beat a couple of times, but we beat them when if counted.
CAVANAUGH: And I'm afraid we're out of time. But I really want to thank you all for speaking with us. I want to tell everyone that the age of champions will be screened at the San Diego film festival's gas lamp theatre. That's on Saturday October 1st, this Saturday, at 12:30. And the senior Olimp games will continue in San Diego through mid-October. I've been speaking with Christopher Rufo who is director of the documentary, age of champions, and senior Olympian, Cody Thompson, anduty white. Thank you so much.
WHITE: Thank you.