Ponce de Leon was wasting his time. The Fountain of Youth isn't in those Florida swamps. The real secret is sweat.
Ask any of the 500 senior citizens expected to participate in this year's Gold Coast Regional Senior Olympics. Beginning Friday, seniors will compete in 15 events to be held around Ventura County. If participants express enough interest, organizers will seek affiliation with the National Senior Olympics to allow future winners to compete beyond the county level.
The hottest events are golf, bowling, and softball, but it didn't start out that way. According to Bette Hartman, senior recreation leader with the city of Ventura's Parks and Recreation Department, the annual olympics began six years ago with "peculiar, less strenuous events, including an art competition." Now the event includes chess, 8-ball pool, basketball free-throw, bicycling, and softball. Without similar games available in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, swimmers and golfers come from as far away as Arroyo Grande to compete.
But not all who enter have blood lust. The model senior olympian turns 99 in December. Fred Newcomb is his name and shuffleboard is his game. It has been since he retired more than 30 years ago. Newcomb, who lives in Ventura, embodies the spirit of participation and sportsmanship. A recent back injury forced him to decline to be honorary chairman of this year's opening ceremony, but everyone expects him to attend.
"He amazes us," Hartman said. "Fred faithfully enters every year with no expectations of winning. He always says, 'I'm just happy to be here.' " Nevertheless, Newcomb's a killer at district competitions and has several trophies to prove it.
Hobie Gundrum of Ojai first dived off of a starting block in 1988. Although he swam as a boy, Gundrum didn't start swimming again until two years ago when at age 70 he entered his first olympics. Last year he won a gold medal in the 25-yard sidestroke. He also picked up four silver medals.
Sixty-one-year-old Edit Abbot, a retired clerical worker, learned sailing, snow skiing, and mountain climbing in her native Germany. "I can't imagine living without sport or animals," Abbot said. Last year, after entering for the third year, Abbot won a gold medal in tennis doubles and a silver in singles.
"There are all kinds of people playing at different levels. They are real nice to each other and help each other even though they are in competition," Abbot said. "Older people have their pride too. They want to show off and say they can do it."
Abbott's partner, Esther Jacinto, 59, of Santa Paula didn't learn to play tennis until she was 50. "I just like being out in the fresh air and playing tennis," said Jacinto, a mother of four grown children.
Jacinto holds down a part-time job but manages to put some serious time into perfecting her game.
"I lost my first husband over 34 years ago. If I had known how to play tennis then, I wouldn't have had time to remarry," she said with a laugh.
* Here's an update on Sue Sally Hale, the polo-playing grandmother from Moorpark (profiled Aug. 2). The United States Polo Assn. Rating Committee just raised Sue Sally's handicap for indoor polo to three goals. She joins her two daughters as three of the five women in the United States with that rank.
* Vivian Pohler doesn't play polo or climb mountains, but at 68 she does climb escalator steps--a feat she couldn't manage 18 months ago.