When Belmont’s Keith Henry saw an advertisement in The American Legion Magazine for the National Veterans Golden Age Games, he instantly knew it was something he wanted to take part in.
“I went to the website, looked it up and applied that day,” said Henry of signing up for the 2008 games in Indianapolis.
A month ago in St. Louis Henry competed in his third Golden Age Games in the past five years.
He missed the 2009 games in Alabama due to an operation, and the 2011 games in Hawaii due to distance and travel costs, but drove down to Des Moines, Iowa for the 2010 event.
The National Veterans Golden Age Games are an annual, week-long, Olympic-style athletic competition for veterans of all branches of the United States military.
The games feature 19 medal events, including: track and field events like shot put, discus and javelin, four swimming events, 1/4-mile and 1/2-mile cycling races, as well as tournaments for bowling, golf, horseshoes, 9-ball pool, table tennis, shuffle board, croquet, dominos, checkers and air rifle shooting.
Events are broken down by gender and age and have both ambulatory and wheelchair divisions. Medals are awarded to the top three in each division of every event.
This year’s games, the 26th annual, were held May 31–June 5 and had more than 800 veteran competitors and 500 volunteers.
To be eligible veterans must be at least 55 years old, and currently under treatment at a Veterans Affairs hospital.
“They want veterans to stay active and continue healthy lifestyles in their latter years. This is one way to encourage that,” said Henry.
The games started at local and state levels, but have since evolved into a national event.
During his first games back in 2008 Henry, now 71, competed in the swimming competition, but has since moved on to other sports. This year he participated in the shot put, golf, croquet and trap shooting, which was a non-competitive demonstration sport this year. Each competitor can participate in four events.
“I tried swimming that first year thinking I would do okay, but once I got in the pool, I got whooped,” joked Henry. “Those guys could really swim. Needless to say, I gave up on swimming.”
This year Henry finished fourth in his age group (70–75) in the shot put with a throw just over eight meters (26 feet).
New Jersey’s Peter Falzarano won Henry’s division with a toss of 10.10 meters (33-11/2).
Henry also finished fourth in his golf division with a round of 100. The winning score in his age group was an 82.
Henry was eliminated for the croquet tournament in the opening round.
“I don’t go anticipating winning. I go for the camaraderie, the fun of competition and just to enjoy being around a bunch of old soldiers,” said Henry, who went to this year’s games by himself.
“We have a lot of shared experiences, and it’s nice spending time with them. I love Belmont, but the community doesn’t have a lot of people like that.”
Meals and local tours are also a part of the entire Golden Ages Games experience. All 800 competitors were housed in the same hotel this year and spent a great deal of time socializing outside of the actual athletic competition.
“There are plenty of things to do, for athletes and families, pretty much every day,” added Henry. “There is always something going on.”
This year’s extracurricular activities included a tour of the St. Louis Arch, a group outing at a minor league baseball game as well as other tours of the city.
Henry grew up in Belmont and joined the Army right out of high school in 1958. He served 28 consecutive years, all over the world in places like Paris, France — where he met his English wife Sylvia — Germany, Korea, Vietnam, and all throughout the states from Washington D.C. to Washington state, before retiring in 1986.
He finished his Army career as a Command Sergeant Major in Fort Polk near Leesville, Louis. Henry and his family then returned to Belmont, and he then worked for 15 years at Lands End in Dodgeville before retiring a second time in 2001.
He is still very active working out at the Lands’ End fitness center two to three times a week, and golfs every week during the summer at the Darlington Country Club where he carries a 15 handicap and usually scores “around 100.”
Henry grew up playing all sports, and eventually played varsity basketball and football for Belmont High School in the late 50s.
He even played military football in the Army at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Henry used to run, even ran a marathon the week of his 40th birthday, until knee and ankle injuries forced him to become a swimmer.
Keith and Sylvia, who is from the North of England, have four children and six grandchildren.
God willing, Henry says he will continue participating in the Golden Ages Games as long as possible.
“I like it a lot,” said Henry. “I really enjoy the entire experience. I will definitely keep going if there are no conflicting family events. I might not be able to make Buffalo next year because I have a pair of grandchildren graduating from high school next year, but I’ll be back in 2013.”