After five months of training, the anxiety of local trials and mounting anticipation for the real test, Friday was the big day.
More than 150 elderly people competed in the 1988 Utah Olympiatrics at the Salt Palace Friday afternoon, taking home gold, silver and bronze medals in several events."I think it's just beautiful," said Ethel Damyan, 78. "Everyone is so happy to be here. It makes their day."
For some, it makes even more. The Olympiatrics are the highlight of Dorothy Jones' year. She has been competing in checkers for four years. "The first year I didn't win," she said. "The second year, I got the silver medal and last year, I got the gold medal."
Jones wore that gold medal, threaded on a red, white and blue ribbon, around her neck for two months after the competition.
"If she wasn't wearing it, she carrying it in her hand to show people," said Donna Mather, recreational therapist at Care West Salt Lake.
If you stopped by to see Jones, she would promptly roll her chair to her dresser, where her medals are stored in her drawer, Mather said.
The patients at Care West Salt Lake began training for the Olympiatrics five months ago. For the past month, they have been training twice a week, Mather said.
"It really gives them something to look forward to. It makes them feel like they are part of society. Those who win medals go back and wear them for months afterward. They are really proud of them."
Rosalie Wiseman's family is certainly very proud. Wiseman has been in a rest home since February, so this was her first Olympiatrics. She participated in wheelchair volleyball and her family turned out to cheer her on - not just one or two family members, but 12, including seven great-grandchildren. There were two rows of Wiseman folk sitting on the sidelines cheering Grandma on every time she hit a ball.
"Yea, Grandma!" shouted granddaughter Carol Fox, when Wiseman got in a particularly good hit. Another granddaughter was on the other side of the court videotaping the event.
"We almost lost her last year," said son Raymond Wiseman. "But she has done so well since she got out of the hospital. We just want to give her lots of attention."
They did. That's what the Olympiatrics were all about: giving everybody as much love, attention and encouragement as they could absorb. The participants went away with more than medals. They went awayaway with wide smiles, flushed cheeks and the assurance that they still have what it takes.