Last Friday morning, two hours before she was to run the 100-yard dash, Edith Myers, 72, walked briskly around the rain-splattered Howard University track. "I feel pretty good," she smiled. "Except 'Arthur' might not cooperate this morning." She pointed to her knees. "I got him in both knees."
To an unknowing observer, the 54 older people seated around Howard's Banneker Community Center that afternoon would have looked typically occupied.
They played cards, ate lunch, did crossword puzzles and chatted about their grandchildren. Only their identical blue T-shirts, sweat pants and robustness seemed out of the ordinary. They were, in fact, athletes, prevented by rain from competing in that day's scheduled 100-yard and 220-yard dashes.
But Saturday under clear blue skies, more than 30 senior citizens spent the day in a series of strenuous swimming competitions in the final day of the Second Annual Senior Citizens Olympics, a four-day sports extravaganza that attracted 500 participants.
Olympics events included running, jumping, tennis and swimming, as well as archery, trapshooting, bowling and billiards.
"It's wonderful," said Jim Ferguson, winner of several swimming events, who looks considerably younger than his 61 years.
"We want to dispel the myth that once you reach a certain age you have to lead a sedentary life style," said program manager Juanita Moore, who at 49 was six years too young to qualify.
"They really enjoy it," she added. "Their response is so positive, it's almost as if we were doing them a favor."
Robert Moffett, 70, the tall, trim winner of Wednesday's 50-yard "You're never too old." -- Betty Hickock dash, appeared restfully robust in gold warm-up pants and Senior Olympics T-shirt. "I think it's a fine act," he said. "It breeds good physical fitness for the seniors and brings good will in the community."
Although sponsored by the D.C. Department of Recreation, the D.C. Office on Aging and Howard University, the Senior Olympics this year admitted contestants from Maryland and Virginia. High school students from both states showed up to root for their home teams. "It really gives everyone a boost, seeing these kids cheering 91-year-olds on," said Moore.
Participants had to be in good physical condition and present a signed waiver from their doctors. Events were divided into groups of four-year age spans and stressed racing the clock as well as each other.
The age divisions usually dominated early conversations.
"One of the funny things about this competition, when you first meet someone, before you ask their name, you ask their age," said Betty Hickock, 66, of Mount Pleasant.
Besides the sporting events (vigilantly supervised by volunteer medical and first-aid teams), the games encouraged the senior citizens to socialize. Complementary activities included less strenuous functions such as square dancing, card games and educational workshops.
The Olympics' closing-day indoor swim meet proved an inspiring showcase for latter-year stamina. Swimmers in their sixties, seventies and eighties freestroked, breaststroked, backstroked and sidestroked, graceful as mermaids in the 25- and 50-meter races.
Alfonso Allen easily won four events in the 55- to 59-year age group. "I felt pretty bad, being a competitive swimmer myself," he admitted. "But I hope I generated some enthusiasm for them other seniors to continue to swim."
"You're never too old," agreed Hickock. "Last year we had someone 90 years old and just learning to swim. When she entered the water . . . you never heard people cheer so much in your life."