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National caliber athletes

It is an event that can bring its participants back to their youth and the competition that athletes thrive on. The field at the 2009 National Senior Games features 27 sports from archery to water polo and almost everything in between. For those ...

Larry Bartl
Echo Press photo by Eric Morken Larry Bartl, left, set up a shot while practicing at Racquetball Plus with fellow National Senior Game goers Tim Cullen and Dan Zimny on July 21.

It is an event that can bring its participants back to their youth and the competition that athletes thrive on.

The field at the 2009 National Senior Games features 27 sports from archery to water polo and almost everything in between. For those 50 and older who qualified at their state games around the county, it is an opportunity to see how they stack up against the best their age group has to offer.

More than 190 Minnesota athletes punched their ticket to the games in San Francisco from August 1-15 by qualifying at last year's Senior Games in Alexandria.

Among those 190 will be four representatives from Alexandria - Susan Paulson in cycling and Larry Bartl, Tim Cullen and Dan Zimny in racquetball. All four athletes go there with a similar attitude - winning would be a bonus but enjoying the competition and the city of San Francisco is top priority.

The trip for Paulson will also take on a little added meaning. Making it to a national tournament in cycling seemed pretty far-fetched years ago. In 1981, doctors found a congenital birth defect that required open-heart surgery to repair. A lifestyle that included a lot of physical activity including volleyball and basketball before the surgery was put on hold.

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"At that time, I couldn't do much physical activity," Paulson said. "So it has just sort of become a personal challenge to see how much I can do."

It was the challenge of coming back from the surgery that helped motivate Paulson to stay active. Now at age 53, the senior games have become an added bonus. She was not even aware of the opportunities out there for her when she went into the games in 2008.

"When I cycled last year in the senior games, I didn't even know there existed a national senior games. Someone said to me afterward, 'I think you qualified for nationals,' and I didn't even know what they meant. It wasn't until a few months later that I got a letter that said 'yes you did qualify.'"

Her excitement has continued to grow in the recent weeks. Self-doubt began to creep in after she had registered for the games. Now that it is less than a week away, her attitude is to take in a unique experience and have fun doing it.

"My first goal is to have a great time," she said. "The second is to complete all four events that I'm registered for (5K and 10K time trial, 20K and 40K road races), and that's really it."

That is a sentiment that is echoed by Alexandria's other competitors. Cullen and Zimny qualified together and will play in the doubles racquetball tournament, while Bartl will take part in the singles competition.

Both Cullen, 58, and Zimny 57, have been playing together for years, too long to remember, Cullen said. All three players are a part of a group that plays at Racquetball Plus on a regular basis.

"I think it's a lot of fun for old guys like Dan and I and Larry to get revved up again and get to be a little more competitive," Cullen said. "We play a lot. We have a league and have a bunch of guys that just play competitively and have a lot of fun doing it."

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Cullen and Zimny have similar expectations when they get out to San Francisco.

"[We] just want to go out there and be in a lot of games and be competitive," Zimny said. "That's the main thing. And I think we feel that we will be able to do that."

Bartl, 64, also hopes to find out that he can compete with the rest of those in his age bracket. His days of playing racquetball go back about 25 years. For the last three years or so he was playing around three times a week. Now he is back to playing around five times a week leading up to the tournament. It is extra work that he hopes will pay off in San Francisco.

"I guess I would sure like to make it to the semifinals," Bartl said. "I would obviously like to make it to the finals, but I would just like to play well and have a good tournament. If I can do that, I'll be happy."

All four Alexandria athletes have taken on a more intense training regimen to prepare. From riding bike a little harder to getting in one more game of racquetball, they are preparing for a little faster pace at nationals.

They may not know how they will stack up against the competition. But one thing is for sure - they are excited to find out.

2009 National Senior Games

The Senior games are for athletes ages 50 and older

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There are 27 sports in which athletes can participate

The 2009 National are being held August 1-15 in San Francisco, CA

More than 190 athletes from Minnesota qualified for the upcoming national event

The first National games, held every other year, were held in 1985 and featured Bob Hope at the St. Louis Riverfront Arch

Related Topics: GAMES
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