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The nation's top senior athletes converge on Cleveland this week
National Senior Games begin Friday, and a local swimmer says he has a distinct advantage

Kevin Niedermier
Retired Cleveland architect Peter Van Dijk will compete in several swimming events in this week's National Senior Games.
Courtesy of Kevin Niedermier
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Thousands of competitors in sports ranging from the triathlon to shuffleboard and horseshoes are coming to Cleveland this week for the National Senior Games. The event, held every two years, features athletes 50 and over -- well over in many cases. WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier caught up with a local swimmer who’s hoping for more gold.

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Retired Cleveland architect Peter Van Dijk has designed many of the area’s landmarks, including the Blossom Music Center stage and downtown Cleveland’s federal building. He led the restoration of Playhouse Square’s theaters and renovation of an old post office into the Akron Art Museum.
On a recent morning at the Cleveland Skating Club pool, the 84-year-old just finished his two-hour training routine to prepare for the Senior Games swimming competition.

National Senior Games, July 19-Aug. 1

Besides the competition itself, here are some of the big events of the National Senior Games over the next two weeks.

Opening Senior Games Festival:
Friday, 4:30-9:30 p.m.
Mall B, Cleveland Convention Center
Fireworks, games, food, entertainment by Rusted Root and The Danger Brothers; flame arrives at 8 p.m.

Red carpet screening of the documentary “Age of Champions”
Monday, July 22, 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.; plus 12:30 p.m. Q&A with athletes featured in the film
Cleveland Convention Center

Free Cleveland Community Senior Walk
Thursday, July 25, 10 a.m.
Mall C, Cleveland Convention Center

Also featured throughout the games are daily musical themes, and special events including art and car shows and a farmer’s market


“I’m glad I’ve always done this because it’s a sport you can get very good at and get very good exercise as well. And you don’t get injured. I suppose you could drown, but that’s about it.”

Van Dijk started swimming in the tropics as a child
Van Dijk is the son of a Dutch Shell Oil manager and grew-up around oil fields in what is now Indonesia and in Venezuela, tropical areas where swimming is a popular year-round activity. His family moved to the United States when he was a teenager, and he began swimming competitively in high school, college and in the Army. He won championships at all levels.

Van Dijk then when went on to win multiple national and international championships in masters events. Now, he’s training four to five days a week for his first National Senior Games appearance.

“I’ll go in the pool and swim 500 yards backstroke, just to warm up and work on my turns, which are a little rusty. And then I’ll do 500 yards freestyle with one arm, then another 500 yards with the other arm.”

Training extends beyond the pool
Van Dijk’s training continues with thousands more yards in the pool to prepare for the 50-yard free style and backstroke and the 100-yard free style and backstroke. And his training continues outside the pool as well.

“I try to eat lots of protein and get lots of rest and just take good care of myself. I’ll have a martini every night, but just one. My doctor says that’s not bad for you. In fact, during a recent check up he said whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”

Exponential growth in less than 25 years
Giving people the motivation to keep active after age 50 is one of the Senior Games goals. Executive Director Marc Riker says the event began in 1987 and attracted 2,500 athletes in 15 sports. This year’s event in Cleveland will draw about 11,000 athletes competing in 19 sports. And Riker predicts spectators will be amazed at the level of athleticism on display.

The events will be held at the Cleveland Convention Center, Cleveland State University, and at Case Western Reserve University. Everything is free to the public. An estimated 30,000 people are expected to come to Cleveland for the two-week event.

'Home-pool advantage'
Though former Cleveland architect Peter Van Dijk has competed and won in swimming at all levels for most of his life, he thinks he may have a distinct advantage when he takes to the water in next week’s competition.

“The swimming venue is at the Cleveland State natatorium. It’s a building I designed 40 years ago. So I guess you could call it my home pool advantage.”

Opening ceremonies for Cleveland’s Senior Games are Friday at the Convention Center featuring the arrival of the torch, fireworks, and musical entertainment by the band Rusted Root.                                                           

(Click image for larger view.)

Related Links & Resources
National Senior Games

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