At age 73, Gary Wuest travels around the Western United States to compete in track and field events.
The Sacramento, California, man is among about 1,000 seniors participating in the Nevada Senior Games’ fall games across the Las Vegas Valley, which run through Oct. 26.
For Wuest, it’s more than just exercise.
“Camaraderie is the number one thing,” he said Oct. 11 during a track-and-field meet at UNLV’s Partridge Track Stadium. Plus, “it gets me off the couch.”
As Wuest talked, fellow seniors competed in shot put and hammer throw.
Nevada Senior Games, launched in 1980, offers Olympics-style events for those 50 and older. The nonprofit’s fall games feature competitions in more than 20 sports.
Organizers say the purpose is to promote health and physical fitness among seniors, and an opportunity for social interaction.
“We want to provide a forum for older athletes to compete with their peers and also celebrate their achievements in an atmosphere of friendship and support,” said Liz Palmer, executive director for Nevada Senior Games.
Nevada’s events are open to athletes from all over the United States and even draw some competitors from countries such as Jamaica, Canada and Germany.
During qualifying years, top finishers advance to compete at National Senior Games Association events.
The national competition is held every other year. The most recent one was in June in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with 13,882 participating seniors, according to the organization’s website. The next games are slated for 2021 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
About Nevada Senior Games
Nevada Senior Games started as “just a few people who wanted to organize a fitness competition,” said Palmer, who started as executive director about a month ago.
It gained nonprofit status in 1985 and became affiliated with the National Senior Games Association that year.
In nonqualifying years, about 1,000 seniors sign up for the fall games, Palmer said. In qualifying years, that number jumps to about 1,800.
In addition to the fall games, Nevada Senior Games holds springtime events: volleyball tournaments in Henderson, softball tournaments in Mesquite, and a regional track-and-field meet at UNLV.
Anyone can sign up to participate, as long as they’re 50 or older and healthy, although no medical exam is required. Competitors are broken up into five-year age brackets for competitions.
“The age is the only qualifying thing we have,” Palmer said.
Two of the most popular sports are pickleball and track and field, Palmer said. The track-and-field competition Oct. 11-13 at UNLV drew more than 200 participants.
One was 66-year-old Daniel Lloyd, who lives in the Bay Area. He has been competing in the Nevada Senior Games for six years and participated Oct. 11 in the throws pentathlon event.
Wuest has competed in senior games for 22 years across the country — mostly within a 400-mile radius of his Sacramento home. About 15 years ago, he started competing in the Nevada Senior Games when his son moved to Las Vegas.
He said he enjoys conversations with the other track-and-field competitors, whom he says are honest and “really good people.”
What does he participate in during track and field? “Everything over 100 meters,” he said about running. He also competes in throwing and jumping.
Some people train hard for the fall games, Palmer said, while others sign up just to have fun.
The age range of participants is typically from 50s to 80s, but “we’ll go up as high as we need,” Palmer said. There’s also a nonqualifying division for 45- to 49-year-olds in some sports.
There are even competitors in their 90s, said Alfred McDaniels, a board member for Nevada Senior Games. One of them was slated to compete Oct. 12 in the track and field meet.
“They’re an inspiration just to see them out there and participating,” he said.
McDaniels has been involved with Nevada Senior Games since its inception.
“It’s just been a joy for me to work with the program over the years,” he said.
Initially, about 12 participants competed in six events around Las Vegas, he said.
McDaniels was UNLV’s head track coach from 1973 to 1992, and was inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame. When he retired, he became Nevada Senior Games’ director.
The 79-year-old said he has bad ankles and knees, and his running days are over, “but I probably can still throw.”
Martha Watson, a 73-year-old who’s a four-time Olympian, has volunteered Nevada Senior Games for about 10 years. She was director of the track-and-field meet for four years and is now helping someone else transition into the position.
When she was in high school in the 1960s, there weren’t any sports programs for girls, Watson said.
“I’m happy that women my age and older can finally get to compete,” she said.
Watson has lived in Las Vegas for about 40 years and competed in the Olympics from 1964 to 1976.
For athletes participating in the Nevada Senior Games, “it’s like a reunion every year,” she said, as they reconnect with friends.
As for competing, “whether they medal or not,” she said, “it’s an accomplishment.”
Nevada Senior Games fall competitions
Dance: 1-4 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road
5K and 10K road races: 8 a.m. Oct. 26 at Wilbur Square Park, 200 Park St. in Boulder City
More information: 702-242-1590 or nevada.fusesport.com