Superior senior strikes gold in North Dakota

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A Superior man struck gold twice last month during the North Dakota Senior Games. He snagged some bronze swag, as well.

Tom Wiedell, 69, first heard about the senior games from his friend and fellow racquetball player, Francis Florey. A former University of Wisconsin-Superior professor, Florey encouraged Wiedell to attend a state competition.

"I think it's a great opportunity to get out there with people you never met before, make new friends and have fun competing," Wiedell said.

One of the new people he met was former North Dakota State University basketball coach Erv Inniger. The two men were paired up for the racquetball doubles tournament.

"He needed a partner; his dropped out," Wiedell said. "What a great guy."

Their styles complimented each other well, he said, and the newly-formed team walked away with gold medals.

Wiedell nabbed another gold medal in the horseshoes tournament and a bronze in solo racquetball competition.

Seniors competed in 15 different events, from pickleball and golf to a 5K run, in various age brackets. The basketball competition, Wiedell said, revolved around free throws and the game of H-O-R-S-E.

"The emphasis is on fun, but there are medals given," he said.

Anyone who medals at a state game qualifies for the National Senior Games, which takes place every other year in a different city. The 2019 games will be held in Albuquerque, N.M.

Most of the state senior games are open to out-of-state residents, according to Del Moon, media director for the National Senior Games Association. And there's no limit on how many state games seniors can compete in.

In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Senior Olympics are the state qualifier for the National Senior Games; in Minnesota, it's the Minnesota Senior games. This year marked the return of the North Dakota games, Moon said, after a five-year hiatus.

A longtime athlete, Wiedell lettered in three high school sports and wrestled for the Division 1 Gophers. He's played a lot of softball, but racquetball is his sport of choice. The Superior man, who works in the health care field, has been playing racquetball for the past 41 years and continues to hone his game regularly with a Superior-based group of friends.

"I really think there are great opportunities for seniors to stay active," Wiedell said.

A strong sporting history isn't necessary to compete. More than half of the more than 10,000 athletes who assemble for the national games are either returning to their sport or taking up a new sport in their senior years, Moon said.

"People assume they have to be great athletes to participate," he said. "The truth is that people of all abilities, newbies to seasoned medalists, compete at the state and local games, and many come to nationals knowing they won't win a medal, but the experience is worth the effort. Our message is that Senior Games offer 'fitness, fun and fellowship' and no one is looked down on. Sports offers a lot more than one can get from gym exercise, and it's never too late to get into the games."

There is a cost to compete at both the state and national levels. It varies by state, Moon said. The fee for the 2017 Wisconsin Senior Olympics was $30 for the first sport, $10 for each additional sport, with a facility or user fee for some sports like golf, racquetball and cycling. The 2017 Minnesota Senior Games registration fee was $45, which includes up to five sports and additional fees for bowling and golf.

For more information on the National Senior Games and qualifying state senior games, visit nsga.com.