Grateful for senior spirit of competing

When they think of things they’re thankful for today, Sandi and Paul Rue of Steubenville are grateful for many blessings, including the chance to follow through on athletic pursuits.

This year, that meant participation in the 2013 National Senior Games held this summer in Cleveland – July 19 through Aug. 1 to be exact. Most of the track and field events unfolded on the campus of Baldwin-Wallace University.

For Paul, 69, it was his fifth National Senior Olympics, as he competed in the shot and discus in the 65-69 age division and finished ninth in the discus with a throw of 115.08 out of a field of 28 competitors and 11th in the shot put with a toss of 35.04.00 out of a field of 26 competitors.

Paul is a veteran of the national competitions, with his first in Pittsburgh in 2005; then Louisville, Ky., in 2007; Palo Alto, Calif., in 2009; and Houston in 2011.

For Sandi, 67, it was her third national competition and a successful one at that, given she brought home four gold medals in all of her events.

She competed in the 50-meter (8.20); the 100-meter (15.05); the 200-meter (32.94); and was the lead-off runner on the 4×100-meter (1:10.10), running in the 65-69 age division with teammates Normimah Benedict, Neva Weisskopf and Helen Ryan.

Since this was the first time competing in the 50-meter dash, her time in that qualifies her as the national champion in it.

If you’re not familiar with the National Senior Games, it previously was known as the National Senior Olympics Organization, which was founded in St. Louis in 1985. The first games ceremonies in 1987 featured Bob Hope and attracted competitors in 18 medal sports, including archery, horseshoes, track and field, and seven demonstration sports such as fencing, sailing and water polo.

The competition is overseen by the National Senior Games Association, a nonprofit member of the U.S. Olympic Committee dedicated to motivating senior men and women to lead healthy lifestyles through the senior games movement for men and women 50 and older.

Paul got interested in competing first, and Sandi, initially on hand to cheer him on, soon followed.

It’s a husband-wife arrangement that’s worked well, as Paul serves as Sandi’s coach and a happy one at that, considering her times have improved from 2009 and she was able to win the gold medal in the 100-meter against a competitor she’s been chasing since 2009, he said.

The Rues’ cheering section at the Cleveland competition included many supporters, among them daughter Saleena Thorn of Indianapolis and Sandi’s sister, Sally Whitfield of Elyria.

The Rues aren’t the only local competitors at the National Senior Games.

Attorney Jerry Boswell of Steubenville is a longtime Senior Olympian and was instrumental in getting Paul interested.

Boswell competed in the long jump, earning a silver medal with a jump of 4.60 meters in the 65-69 age division and the triple jump, placing fourth with a jump of 8.89 meters.

Steubenville native Jack Thornton, 67, of Warren also is another competitor with area ties. Competing in the 65-69 age division, Thornton placed sixth in the triple jump with a distance of 8.24 meters; 10th in the long jump with a jump of 4.05 meters; and 11th in the race walk with a time of 10:38:41. Thornton serves on the track coaching staff at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and also serves as a coach for Sandi.

Thornton is a four-time National Senior Olympics participant and finalist, having competed in 2007 in Louisville, 2009 in California and 2011 in Houston in addition to Cleveland this summer.

He has achieved All American status with his top eight finishes at each national event – fifth in the triple jump in 2007 and 2009; sixth in the long jump in 2011; and sixth in the triple jump at the 2013 Cleveland event.

Thornton competed in track as a student at Steubenville High School and has more than 30 years of coaching experience in track and field, cross country and women’s basketball. He is a retired educator and athletic coach in the Warren City Schools District and began and ended his teaching and coaching careers at Warren Western Reserve and Warren G. Harding high schools.

Thornton is entering his fifth season as the assistant track coach at Franciscan University where he serves as the sprints coach. He also is the founder, program director and head coach of the Warren Striders Track Club Inc. and has served as its CEO since its inception in 1977.

He said he’s proud of the role in helping to coach Sandi to her gold medal wins at the National Senior Games.

Sandi, Boswell and Thornton, incidentally, have earned a place on the National Games Top 10 Performances and Current Record Holders List.

It all adds up to reason to give thanks, according to Sandi.

“I am so very thankful to God for the opportunity to be able to compete at the National Senior Games and to win four gold medals. The training is hard, but I am truly thankful for the health and strength that I have been afforded at my age so that I am able to compete and to win,” Sandi said.

“I also am blessed that I have the support of my family and especially Paul who, as my husband and coach, encourages me to pursue my passion of running and who is there to help me stay focused on my goal of achieving the ultimate prize – a gold medal,” Sandi said, noting she also is grateful for community support.

If you’re 50 or older and interested in information on getting involved in these athletic events, visit the website at