Getting only better with age
At 80, Tom Rice says he's more competitive than he was in school. He's aiming for the PA Senior Games.
After running a 200-meter dash, throwing a javelin, or completing a triple jump, 80-year-old Tom Rice will rest on what he calls "a stupid old lawn chair."
Still, the blue folding chair has meaning to him, perhaps almost as much as the more than 300 medals he's won and the 11 state records he holds.
The chair is covered with almost 40 signatures - all written in black marker - of competitors, friends and teachers he's met at various competitions.
"I've learned from these elder statesmen in the world of track and field, these guys that are really great," said Rice, who ran track at Upper Darby High School and Pennsylvania State University. "I am much better now than I was then - if you gauge according to age."
So although he might not run as fast, jump as high or throw as far as he once did, the retired salesman and Nether Providence resident does it all with much better form.
Rice will bring his trusty chair to the Delaware County Senior Games, which begin Friday with a 6:30 p.m. opening ceremony at Rose Tree Park in Upper Providence. He has participated in the contest for people 50 and older since its inception in 1990.
"I just enjoy the people and the competition. My wife says I'm too competitive," Rice said, adding that she banned him from the shuffleboard contest. Now he sticks with track and field events at the county games. He views them as a warm-up for the Keystone State Summer Games and PA Senior Games, to be held July 22-27 in York County.
His wife, Dolores, convinced him to enter the Delaware County Senior Games back in 1990, when Rice was 62. "I said, 'Why don't you enter this because you used to be a track star in school?' " his wife said. " 'Why don't you go see what you can do?' "
He did better than expected, and he kept competing. Standing 5-foot-71/2 and weighing 155 pounds, Rice weighs 15 pounds less than he did in 1990. He said the contests motivate him to eat healthier, stay in shape and stick to a steady exercise routine.
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it's weight-lifting and a brisk one-mile walk at the Ridley Sports Club. Tuesdays, Thursdays and one day during the weekend, Rice will take another one-mile walk around Swarthmore College's outdoor track, followed by a couple of 200-meter sprints. He takes a pill for blood pressure, but no other medication. No vitamins, either. He's very conscious about stretching, though.
In March, Rice won four gold medals - in long jump, triple jump, high jump and pole vault - at the USA Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships in Boston. He also won a bronze in the shot-put. His goal this year is to qualify for All-American status in 10 events, and he has qualified in six so far.
The time qualifications lessen for each age group, as do the weight the seniors throw. The discus Rice throws, for instance, weighs 1 kilogram, compared to the 2-kilogram piece thrown by male Olympians.
Rice thinks the adjustments are fair. "When you get to be a certain age, it's not so easy," he said.
He holds 11 records - in different age groups - at the Keystone State Games. (Age groups are typically divided every five years for seniors.) At age 75, he set the 100-meter record at 15.69 seconds. At age 76, he set the 200-meter record at 36.06 seconds. Last year, he broke the high-jump record at 3 feet, 10 inches.
"He gets excited, not in the sense of [blowing] his own horn; but excited because [it] shows that he's still active and still participating," said Trey Jackson, one of the directors of the Keystone State Games and PA Senior Games.
Joe Granahan, 78, said that, for the moment, he has the best chance of taking first-place titles while Rice is in the lower age bracket. Still, Rice is coming up, and there are worse guys to lose to.
"Some guys who are excellent and number one for years and years, they're a little distant," said Granahan, who resides in Glenside, Montgomery County. "But Tom is really down to earth. He's a heck of a guy."
If You Go
The 2008 Delaware County Senior Games take place June 16-20 at various venues throughout the county. They are open to anyone, age 50 and older. There is a $10 registration fee; forms are available at the Department of Parks and Recreation office.
To register, call 610-565-7410, or visit
» READ MORE: www.co.delaware.pa.us
Games include bowling, table tennis, golf, swimming, basketball, and track and field events. Opening ceremonies, which are open to the public, will take place at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Rose Tree Park in Upper Providence. A concert follows.