Two with local ties earn medals at National Senior Games

William “Bill” Koleszar is Seymour’s newest national champion.

Competing in the National Senior Games for the first time, the 70-year-old man finished first in the age 70-74 division of the 50-meter dash.

His time was 7.23 seconds, finishing just ahead Max Siu of Texas, who timed 7.24. The day before during qualifications, Siu was first in 7.32, followed by Koleszar in 7.46. There were 37 men in the division, and the top eight moved to the finals.

“Over the last 10 meters, I was just able to barely pass him and beat him by one one-hundredths of a second,” Koleszar said. “Very unexpected because my qualifying time in Michigan (7.42) was higher than that, and my qualifying time down there was higher than that.”

He was happy to be highest on the awards podium with a gold medal around his neck.

“That was really cool. I think my wife was more excited than me,” he said, smiling.

Koleszar competed in three other track and field events and earned medals in two of them.

Seymour native Jane Emkes, who now lives in Ashland, Oregon, also competed in the National Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The 60-year-old played basketball and softball.

The National Senior Games Association event offers competition in 20 sports for men and women ages 50 and over and is the largest multisport event in the world for seniors. This year’s competition was the 18th event.

William “Bill” Koleszar

On the same day he won the 50, Koleszar ran qualifying for the 100-meter dash. He just made it to the finals, placing eighth in 14.53.

The following day, though, he finished third in 13.79 and won a bronze medal. Michael Kish of New Jersey won in 13.13, and David Craig of Tennessee was second in 13.52. There were 29 men in that race.

“I was ecstatic on that one because I qualified eighth,” Koleszar said. “The competition, it just spurs you. The winner is one of the top sprinters in the country. There are only two or three guys at his level, and he’s one of them. He won the 100 and 200 by a pretty reasonable margin from the second-place finisher.”

He followed that up by placing second in the prelims of the 200-meter dash, timing 28.51. Kish’s qualifying time was 27.43.

In the finals, Koleszar dropped to fifth place but improved his time, 28.43. Kish won in 26.89, Craig was second in 28.07 and two men finished in 28.17.

“I didn’t run the first 100 as fast as I could go because once I got around the curve in the first 100 and you’re heading to the second 100, I couldn’t catch anybody, and they couldn’t leave me, so if I would have stayed up with them initially, I think I would have had a chance to get third,” Koleszar said. “I just didn’t go hard enough initially, but live and learn. Fifth place, I’m happy with that, too.”

That day, he planned to anchor the 4×100 relay with three men, but one of them fell and broke a rib and another one pulled a muscle. The other guy then arranged for three others to run with him, and they practiced handoffs for about 15 minutes.

Running in the 65 and over relay, twins Ron and Randall Stevens, Richard Boro and Koleszar placed second in 59.14 to earn silver medals.

“The winning team smoked us (55.27). They were quite a ways ahead, but there were five teams, and we were quite ahead of the other three teams,” Koleszar said. “It was really fun.”

Overall, his first time at the National Senior Games was a positive experience. He said fellow competitors and spectators were friendly, and he was glad to have his wife, his daughter, his son and family, two sets of friends from Seymour and one of his college friends and his wife there to watch him.

“It was just every enjoyable, mainly because the people involved and seeing other people older than me going ‘Yeah, we can still do it,’” he said. “You never know what you can do until you try. I’m very fortunate.”

Now, Koleszar is gearing up for the Indiana State Games in Evansville in hopes of qualifying for the 2023 National Summer Games in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Track and field is June 11, and the top four in each event will qualify.

Twice about 10 years ago, Koleszar participated in the state games just for fun to see if he could qualify for the national event. He, however, didn’t make it to that level until qualifying in August 2021 in Michigan to go this year.

The national games normally are every other odd year, but the 2021 games were postponed to 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jane Emkes

This marked Emkes’ fifth time competing in the National Senior Games, doing basketball each year and softball the last four times.

She first started in 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio, and then went in 2015 to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2017 to Birmingham, Alabama, and in 2019 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, before this year in Florida.

The pandemic resulted in no state qualifying tournaments for both of her sports, so the NSGA waived qualification criteria for this year only. Typically, a team must place in the top three in a state qualifying tournament the year prior.

For basketball, since the players on the Zips are geographically spread out — Ashland, Oregon, and San Diego, California — the whole team wasn’t able to practice together before the national games.

“Since I’m able to spend part time in San Diego where four of our players reside, four or five of us did practice together at the YMCA at least six different times starting a few months before the tournament,” Emkes said.

Each nationals, the teams she has played on have been composed of different players.

“I’m grateful that several players I knew but had never played with from San Diego agreed to join our team, and this was the first time we had all played together,” Emkes said. “Since Florida is a long way from the West Coast, some players I’ve played with previously chose not to make the trip during COVID times.”

San Diego has an organized league for women 50 and older, so there were opportunities to play organized games and pickup games in San Diego every week.

“That allowed me to find players to complete our team this year,” Emkes said.

The Zips wound up taking second place out of 14 teams in the 60-64 age group, which plays half-court three-on-three. They lost in the championship game to a northeast team that has several former professional players.

“Our record was 5-2 with our only losses to that team twice,” Emkes said. “I’m very proud of what our team accomplished together, and we had fun.”

For softball, it was the same situation due to players living in different areas. Emkes said the last time they had played together was at the Huntsman World Senior Games in October 2021.

“We don’t practice all together at all,” she said. “We individually go to the batting cages, and some of our southern California players go to other tournaments in their area, playing on other teams. Historically, we’ve tried to play in a few other senior tournaments annually, but COVID has kept us apart.”

The team, called Team Battleaxe, is mostly from Oregon and southern California. Many of the core players have remained the same since the 2015 nationals.

“Due to life changes, injuries, age divisions or other considerations, the players are never exactly the same each nationals,” Emkes said.

This year, the team placed first in the third bronze division, playing in the 55-59 age group.

“So that is not first overall,” Emkes said. “The top five elite teams played in gold division, the next eight best teams were in silver division and the remaining eight teams were in bronze division. We were pleased because skills-wise, we belonged in the bronze division.”

Emkes said both of her teams had a lot of fun, and she enjoyed the seafood and sunshine in Florida.

“We all come together to be more competitive than some might imagine,” she said. “It’s wonderful to play with some of the same players and some new players each time. It feels like family when we compete, and we remain friends off the court or field. Senior athletes seem to have a certain bond together and enjoy getting to know other teams we compete against.”

Emkes said she is so fortunate to still be able to compete in the two sports she loves.

“I never stopped playing softball (in nonsenior leagues); however, I picked up basketball again once I turned 50 because of organized senior opportunities,” she said. “Five years ago, I was able to compete at the World Masters Games in New Zealand, playing full-court basketball.”

She said she hopes to have another 30-plus years of competing.

“I think it doesn’t matter what age you are. If you take care of your body and have some good fortune along the way, we can compete a long time,” Emkes said. “There were athletes 100 years-plus competing in various sports at these National Senior Games.”

While living part time in San Diego, she has the opportunity to play basketball with women in their 80s and 90s. Their team, San Diego Splash, has been nationally featured.

“Those women are so inspiring,” Emkes said. “Their oldest player, Grace, is still playing basketball at 96. I just hope they don’t move the 3-point line back further as I grow older.”