By Lee Davis
The National Senior Games are coming to the Birmingham area June 2, and Kerry Grinkmeyer and Abby Lutzenkirchen are ready.
Grinkmeyer of Mountain Brook, 72, is a veteran of two previous Senior Games and will be competing in three running events as well as cycling.
“I’m participating because if I do so, I will live a longer and healthier life,” Grinkmeyer said. “And I love to compete.”
Lutzenkirchen, a Cahaba Heights resident, faces a different challenge. As volunteer services assistant for the Senior Games, she is tasked with recruiting 3,000 volunteers from the community to help administer the games. As of press time, about 1,500 had signed up.
“We need volunteers for just about any skill set that’s out there,” Lutzenkirchen said. “We need everything from score keeping, hospitality, operating the water cooler, working athlete check-in at the BJCC and everything else you can imagine.”
Lutzenkirchen was confident that all the needs would be filled.
“We’ve been recruiting volunteers for a year, still we knew we’d get most of them to sign up in the last two weeks. Birmingham is known as a ‘walk-up’ town, and that’s true for volunteers as well.”
The Senior Games will run until June 15 and take place at 19 different venues, including the BJCC, the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Oak Mountain State Park, Samford University, the Birmingham Crossplex and UAB.
Grinkmeyer competed in track and field in high school and college but did not become interested in participating in the Senior Games until a conversation with his 8-year old grandson struck a chord.
“We were watching the 2010 Winter Olympics and I noticed that many of the competitors were only 16 or 18 years old,” he recalled. “And I told my grandson that to be competing at the Olympic level at that age meant they must have been involved in their sport for at least 10 years. So, I asked him, ‘Do you want to be in the Olympics one day?’ He said, ‘Grandpa – why didn’t you participate in the Olympics?’ And that inspired me for the Senior Games.”
After watching the Winter Olympics, Grinkmeyer at first considered participating in the bobsled.
“I thought I could be the guy that pushes the bobsled,” he recalled. “But then I realized I’d be competing with former NFL linebackers and defensive backs, so I went home.”
Grinkmeyer did compete in the 2011 Senior Games in Houston as a runner, but he suffered an injury.
“After getting injured in 2011, I went out and bought a bicycle,” he said. “So I competed in cycling in the 2013 Games (in Cleveland). You can get injured running. You can’t get injured riding a bike. The only thing that can hurt you is a pickup truck or a Buick.”
Grinkmeyer, a realtor, plans to run in the 50-meter dash, the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash at Samford University. “I like to measure myself against my peers,” he said. “There’s no better way to do that than the 50-meter dash.”
His cycling events of choice will be the 5K and 10K trails at Oak Mountain State Park.
While he has no realistic expectations of winning, Grinkmeyer thrives on the intensity of the competition.
“After I compete in one of these difficult running events, there’s a feeling of exhilaration that’s hard to describe,” he said.
Lutzenkirchen, a University of Alabama graduate who interned with the prestigious sports marketing firm of Knight Eady before coming to the Senior Games, sees the event as a showcase for Birmingham.
“Birmingham is a hidden gem,” she said. “There are so many aspects of the area that so many don’t know about. This is great exposure for Birmingham and the surrounding communities.”
Lutzenkirchen said the games will attract about 10,000 athletes and their families.
“On an average, each athlete will bring 2.5 people with them,” she said. “They’ll stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. It will be a tremendous economic boost for the area.”
Estimates say that the Senior Games should bring about $30 million of revenue into the area’s coffers.
Grinkmeyer doesn’t think it’s particularly unique that he still loves athletic competition after the age of 70. “I love my life,” he said. “I just want to live it to the fullest.”
With Lutzenkirchen and the rest of the Senior Games staff working 20-hour days, there’s not much time to think of any plans beyond June 15.
“I’ll probably go somewhere and relax for a little while,” she said. “But right now, all we’re thinking about is making this the best Senior Games ever.”
For more information about the Senior Games and volunteering for the games, visit nsga.com.
2017 National Senior Games
The Senior Games will run until June 15 and take place at 19 different venues, including the BJCC, the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Oak Mountain State Park, Samford University, the Birmingham Crossplex and UAB. Abby Lutzenkirchen, below, is tasked with recruiting 3,000 volunteers from the community to help administer the games. As of press time, about 1,500 had signed up. For more information about the Senior Games and volunteering for the games, visit nsga.com.