Walla Walla to be represented at Senior Games

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Seated with a row with other Washington State Senior Games Team Walla Walla participants at a lunch meeting, Skip Winchester shares in the laughter as all the participants talk and joke about their background in their respective sport.

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Team Walla Walla member Mel Blue (left) and group organizer Susan Anfinson (background center) welcome Skip Winchester (right) to the table at a lunch meeting as he joins the YMCA team headed to the Washington State Senior Games. Blue will be golfing, Anfinson will be playing tennis and Winchester will be playing table tennis in addition to throwing shot, discus and javelin at the games this weekend in Olympia.

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Bob Griswold jokes with fellow Wasington State Senior Games Team Walla Walla teammates that he will be competing, in quotes, as a novice in the 42K cycling event. During a lunch meeting most of the team echoed Griswold's sentiment, putting an emphasis on fun.

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YMCA Team Walla Walla organizer and participant Susan Anfinson.

WALLA WALLA - It's not just the young representing Walla Walla at state athletic events this summer.

A local team of eight will take their athletic skills to the Olympia area this weekend for the Washington State Senior Games, swinging rackets, riding bikes and hurtling the shot in competition with hundreds of other Washington seniors in 25 different sports.

The youngest person on this trip?

Susan Anfinson, 57, who will play tennis.

Anfinson also works for the YMCA, which is the primary organizer behind the local team.

"This is a really cool thing because most of the people going are not lifelong athletes in their sport," Anfinson said. "They've set a goal and they're working toward it. Keeping active - that's the goal. It's not a high level of competition, just to be active and get competitive juices flowing."

The Washington State Senior Games are part of the National Senior Games Association, a nonprofit organization that has events for athletes age 50-plus. There are state-wide competitions every year, and a national competition every two years.

Activities range from cowboy-action shooting to basketball, with a variety in between.

And although a good bout is fun, it's not the only thing that matters.

"If I come in last and my heart's still beating, I'll be satisfied," said Robert Griswold, a 71-year-old cyclist.

Griswold started cycling about six years ago. The 42-kilometer race through Lacey, Wash., will be his first. Griswold started to bike when arthritis and knee problems took him off the hiking trails.

"The competition part is almost nothing to me," he said. "If I do well, maybe I'll prep more and get a different bike for next year."

Griswold joins other athletes, some who have been in their sport for most of their lives.

"If they played when they were younger and liked it, this gives them the opportunity to go out again," Anfinson said.

One such athlete is Sandy Huse, a 62-year-old tennis player. Huse has played tennis for about 30 years.

"The Senior Games help keep people over 50 moving and being competitive," Huse said. "I used to play competitively in the U.S. Tennis Association and I played and coached at the community college - so I've been pretty competitive most of the time.

"But usually I play just for fun now."

Huse and Anfinson will play doubles tennis together, she said.

And competition's a big part of Skip Winchester's game.

Winchester, 70, will compete in shotput, discus, javelin and table tennis.

He's been a competitor all his life.

Winchester played baseball in Colombia in high school and got involved with the senior games when he lived in South Carolina. He participated for about 10 year there, before moving to Walla Walla about six years ago to get married.

Many states, including South Carolina, have regional senior games in addition to the state-wide competition - and this year's participants would like to see that next year.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," Griswold said. "I wish there were smaller versions throughout the year. It would be nice if there were regional senior game events."

For Walla Walla seniors, the games are also about friendship and family.

Griswold, a retired postal worker who recently completed a novel, is turning his trip to the West Side into a family affair. His daughter, Robin, is flying up from California to greet him after the race and head back to Walla Walla. And Griswold lived in the Olympia area, so it's also a chance to revisit his old stomping grounds - this time perched on a bike.

Winchester's wife, Lois, will cheer him on from the sidelines.

It's also been a chance to get to know other seniors in the group and be more active at the YMCA, Anfinson said.

"I work with seniors and provide social events, but I wanted to get more active seniors and give them an outlet for something other than lifting weights and cardio," she said. "This is more fun."

Next year, she'd like to see a bigger turnout. At an informational meeting early this year, about 20 people expressed interest, but dropped out for various reasons, including injuries and vacation schedules.

"But eight has been a great turnout for the first year," she said. "I'm very happy with it."

And they'll be happy, too.

"I can't see why I wouldn't want to do this again," Huse said. "It's been fun."

The opening ceremonies are at 8 a.m. Saturday at Tumwater High School.

For Griswold, it comes back to completing the competition.

"If I have a heart attack and die on the bike - then I'm doing what I want to be doing," he said. "That's a lot better than many ways people exit this life."

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