click to enlarge John Williams displays a bronze medal he won at the national Senior Olympics in Birmingham, Alabama for the triathlon event. - PHOTO BY JUDY SHIPP
John Williams displays a bronze medal he won at the national Senior Olympics in Birmingham, Alabama for the triathlon event.

Local seniors are staying accountable to their exercise routines – while having fun – by participating in the Illinois Senior Olympics (ISO). A little friendly competition spurs many people in their 50s and beyond to go that extra mile, swim that extra lap, or hop out of bed for a morning workout instead of hitting snooze.

According to Justin Yuroff, Illinois Senior Olympics director, the social and mental side of the games is as important as the physical. “It can be an annual get-together with people they might not see all the time through the rest of the year,” Yuroff says. “Plus, it’s something to train for and look forward to. A lot of people still have that competitive spirit as they get older.”

The next level

The ISO, which started in 1977, is one of the oldest state games in the country, Yuroff says. Across the U.S., athletes who qualify in their state games this fall have the chance to compete in the 2019 National Senior Games (NSG) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The biennial national event is a motivating goal and an opportunity to experience a higher level of play among top contenders.

John Williams, 66, of Springfield, is one of the lucky few who have qualified to compete in Albuquerque. A lifelong running and cycling enthusiast, when Williams retired from his career as a state college instructor at Jacksonville Correctional Center six years ago, he decided to confront his fear of water by dedicating time to learning the technique of swimming. He enjoyed the challenge of learning a new skill, and he chose to build on his newfound capability in the water by competing in Stoneman Triathlons, the Illinois qualifier for the NSG. Since then, he has qualified in triathlons in the NSG three times. When he was awarded a bronze medal in 2017 in the Birmingham, Alabama, games he says he felt humbled and honored. Williams says, “I realized the dream of a lifetime.”

Pick your passion

Williams, who didn’t begin competing in triathlons until age 60, says “weekend warriors” like he used to be should consider dedicating themselves to reaching new fitness heights. Training, he says, is the springboard to success. Put in the time and employ best practices, and you’ll be gratified by the results – which may even include being awarded a medal on a podium.

“It does feel good to be recognized,” Williams says. “Everyone is clapping. Some will shake your hand or pat you on the back. It fuels motivation.”

Events take place at various locations, mostly right here in Springfield, from late July through mid-October. Anyone age 50 or older can take part, and there’s something for everyone, from the seasoned athlete to the novice exerciser.

Everyone is included

Completing a triathlon or running a 10K is a fantastic achievement, but it may not suit everyone. For those who would like to compete but prefer a lower-impact activity, there are many safe, fun and healthy options. Yuroff says Wii bowling and bridge are popular choices, though he cautions bridge is one of the only games where you will not find many beginners.

ISO has something to offer even seniors who prefer to keep their workouts non-competitive. Spectators can learn about the games and assess if they might be interested in the future, and there are many volunteer roles. Williams has volunteered on the ISO’s advisory board for the past year and a half, and he has enjoyed the chance to give back.

To get involved in the Illinois Senior Olympics, go to or call 528-4035.

Elizabeth Watson is a freelance communications consultant living and working in Springfield.

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