The National Senior Games Association held its first “Olympic” competition in 1987 with 2,500 men and women. In June, Houston welcomed 15,000 senior competitors who were 50 or older.
Morro Bay celebrates two 2011 medalists. Jim Zuur brought home gold in the Men’s 50-Yard Breast Stroke, and Arby Kitzman won bronze for the Men’s Triathlon. At 71, they compete with seniors ages 70 to 74. Each qualified at a sanctioned meet during the previous year by winning a first, second or third in his event.
Zuur swam competitively in high school and while serving in the Pacific.
“After the Air Force, I stopped swimming,” said Zuur, who is now semi-retired from a theater management career. “I wanted to age well and started swimming since I was told it was the healthiest exercise you could do.”
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After attending a Senior Games at Stanford, he joined Coach Cokie Lepinski’s team at Marin Pirates Masters Swimming. He continues training with her while living in Morro Bay with wife Mary Ellen Bohnsack. He qualified for the nationals in three events.
“I still have that competitive instinct,” Zuur said. “I was seeded No. 2 in Houston. I swam next to the No. 1 seed. On the flip, I saw his feet, so knew he was ahead. I had to give it all I had if I was going to win. During the awards ceremony, I couldn’t stop smiling. All that hard work! I had accomplished my goal.”
Kitzman owned Kitzman’s Culligan of Morro Bay. He recently sold it to his son Rob. He is still an avocado rancher.
“I was always a runner,” he said. “In the ’80s, I hurt my back and began to swim. I didn’t compete until I was 69. My wife, Jeanne, said I was the only man she knew who couldn’t wait to jump an age group. I qualified for nationals in Burlington (Vermont) then got Achilles tendonitis and couldn’t train for six months. I’m very competitive, so somewhat disappointed I came up short of the gold.”
Both men appreciate the supportive competitors and agree with the association’s purpose, which is to promote wellness, health, fitness and competition.
Kitzman explained there were cheers for a 90-year-old runner who finished with an ambulance following him around the course. Zuur matched his story with a 95-year-old swimmer who wheeled his wheelchair to the pool then swam to finish to a standing ovation.
What’s next? Zuur and teammates will attend the World Championships next June in Italy. Kitzman intends to compete in the Huntsman Games.
“That’s a good question,” Zuur said. Both plan to keep swimming and running to stay active with a purpose.
Reach Judy Salamacha at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-1422.