Spend any amount of time around the Tennessee Senior Olympics, and you’ll be struck by the energy, enthusiasm and friendship shared by the competitors.
But make no mistake: these people are here to win.
That’s why you’ll see Margie Stoll taking a no-nonsense approach to her track duties. She competes in the 800- and 1,500-meter events, as well as the 5K and 10K road races (with first-place finishes in each), and says she enjoys the exercise and focus that running provides.
“It’s a chance to compete, which I enjoy,” Stoll, 76, explains. “It’s friendly, and it’s fun to see people every couple of years, but I want to see how well I can do. There aren’t many opportunities for track events for seniors, so this is where I can do my best.”
That drive to compete began long before Stoll became eligible for the games, which began in 1981 and are open to any Tennessean over the age of 50.
As she tells it, there were no real competitive sports options for girls during her school years, but she’d always enjoyed running for fun.
That sometime hobby continued into her adult years.
When her husband was working in Washington, D.C., she’d run the occasional mile near their home. When she’d drop off her small children at preschool during the family’s time in Philadelphia, a run around the nearby track often followed.
“When they were older and in school after we’d moved to Nashville, I’d take a run around the neighborhood just so I could eat that extra cookie,” she adds.
Age = opportunity for competition
Around the time of Stoll’s 60th birthday, she was looking at the results of some road races and decided it was now or never.
She entered a Memorial Day 5K that wound its way through the Nashville City Cemetery, figuring “If I didn’t make it, they could just bury me right there.” She not only finished; she won her age division — and a competitor was born.
“I was hooked after that,” she says.
“I got into my first senior games that summer.”
Almost two decades later, she says that she’s not surprised that the Tennessee games continue to grow in popularity, as well as the national competition.
“Older people are getting more and more active, and they are also publicizing the games more,” she explains. “I can remember going to the national games in Virginia Beach, Houston, Birmingham, Louisville and even at Stanford University in Palo Alto, and they were all exciting and fun.”
“Palo Alto was really something; they’ve had a lot of sports stars run there, and to think that I was on the same track as all those Olympians was really something.”
She also credits the events’ volunteers and judging crews for success, saying “the volunteers are always so nice, and the judges are so knowledgeable. They really take us seriously, which I like a lot.”
“They are used to judging young people, college kids, but they always treat us like real athletes as well.”