Health Care

Active aging: Older adults use competitive sports to push themselves

He had jumped out of airplanes before, fulfilling a dream of learning how to skydive. But this was different.

"I always say, 'If you're not falling, you're not learning,'" Dave Petzel of Westland, Mich., said with a laugh.

He was talking about the day more than 15 years ago when he learned how to figure skate -- the day he waddled onto the ice looking like "the Michelin guy" in his armor of knee, hip and elbow pads.

Petzel, who was in his late 40s at the time, had been watching figure skating on TV with his wife during the Winter Olympics when he was struck by an urge to not only try a new sport, but attempt to be good enough at it to be competitive.

Last year in Minneapolis, Petzel did just that and more: He won his third national masters title for his level and age group at the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships.

Representing the Westland Figure Skating Club, he wore a costume accessorized with a red and black cummerbund, and his gold-medal-winning performance to "Mask of Zorro" included spins, spirals and three combination jumps.

Petzel, by the way, is 64.

He is part of a generation of older adults whose passion for maintaining an active lifestyle includes choosing the thrill of competition -- taking participation to the next level.

The 5-foot-7, 145-pounder didn't try to defend his national title this year because of, oddly enough, lack of competition in his age group. But in June he won the bronze medal at the Meijer State Games in Grand Rapids, Mich. The winner was in her 20s.

"I'll do it next year because I want to prove something to myself," he said of nationals. "Competition to me is like a point on a pencil. It sharpens your wit; it places you on a new ground of being. The enemy of good is better, and I'm going to keep trying to get better."

Petzel and others choose sports for the social benefits. They do it because they know it's good for their physical, mental and emotional health.

Mostly, though, they do it because it's fun.

"When I'm out there, we're having so much fun that you don't even think you're exercising," said soccer player Addie Bauer, 60, of Clarkston, Mich.

Bauer and Rosanna Norwood, 61, of Milford, Mich., found their "competition fix" in soccer through area leagues. They're members of the Motor City Classics, a senior women's team. Norwood also plays on two other teams.

The Classics often travel the country competing in tournaments against other top senior teams. Because there aren't many senior women's teams in the Detroit area, the Classics sometimes play athletes half their age.

That happened two weeks ago, where the Classics played a team of women mostly in their 30s.

In the opening minutes of the game, an opposing player crashed into Norwood, breaking her nose.

Norwood was determined to play the rest of the game. She added a goal and two assists before driving herself to the emergency room after the shutout victory.

Married for 41 years, a mother of two adult daughters and grandmother of seven, Norwood said with a laugh: "The last thing my husband always says before I go out to play is, 'Don't get yourself hurt.' "

Norwood and Bauer, a retired physical education teacher, didn't play organized sports in high school because it was before the 1972 passage of Title IX, which resulted in more high school athletics for girls.

Bauer said she started playing soccer at age 48 when she was invited to be a guest player on a team. Her youngest child was then 17.

"One of the best things about competing in a sport is that we have to work out to stay in shape on the field," she said. "I think my competitiveness is a mind-