As adults go through life — building a career, raising a family — it can be difficult for some to find the time and motivation to keep active. Even those whose careers are serving the elderly and who see the effects of inactivity can find it difficult.
Charlotte Rathke, 58, who works as the administrator of Locust Grove Village in La Crosse, has found her motivation again through some friendly competition.
Rathke, along with her sons Denton and Tyler, will compete this weekend in the Sunflower State Games, the state’s largest amateur sports festival. Starting Friday and running through July 28, athletes across the state will converge in Topeka to compete in 47 sports.
It will be Rathke’s second time in the games. And last month, she competed in the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, N.M.
It was Denton, a track and field athlete at Tabor College in Hillsboro, who introduced her to the Sunflower games, Rathke said.
“He and a teammate wanted to stay active, throwing through the summer, and so they decided they would go to the Kansas Sunflower Games,” she said.
Rathke and her husband, Eric, traveled to Topeka to watch Denton compete.
Rathke said she didn’t know a lot about the games at that time and didn’t realize it was for people of all ages.
“That was my first experience realizing that there was that kind of thing. So I saw people like an 83-year-old man throwing the hammer,” she said.
Denton began encouraging his mother to compete in the 2018 games. Rathke had competed in shot put and discus in high school, placing at the state track and field meet her senior year.
She was a bit hesitant, however.
“He said, ‘Well you’re not gonna know 'til you get your implements and try it,’ ” she said.
“So then last spring and the start of the summer, he was home and he worked with me. It had been 39 years since I’ve thrown in high school,” she said.
There wasn’t a lot of competition in women’s track and field at the 2018 Sunflower Games, Rathke said, but she was hooked.
“It was fun to compete. The camaraderie was neat,” she said.
The Sunflower Games has a senior games component, as well. In even-numbered years, the state games are qualifiers for the national competition, which is held in odd-numbered years.
“That was part of my motivation, wanting to compete where there were more people to compete with,” she said.
The national games consist of 20 different sports, including archery, bowling, basketball, horseshoes, table tennis, pickleball and swimming.
“It felt like you were in the Olympics. There was the torch run and lighting the cauldron and there was opening and closing ceremonies with the parade of athletes. And you met other people from Kansas, and you’re down there cheering for your state. It was a lot of fun,” she said.
Rathke finished 17th in the women’s 55 to 60 age group in discus with a best throw of 64 feet, 1 inch. In shot put, she finished 16th, throwing a 6.6 pound weight 26 feet, 6 inches.
“I hit my best marks at the end of last season,” she said.
Those bests are 70 feet, 4 inches in discus and 27 feet, 6 inches in shot put.
The competition isn’t as important as the time it’s given her with her family and the motivation to get healthy, she said.
“I wasn’t active, I wasn’t moving. My knees were hurting, my back was hurting, and I kind of just had to say to myself, ‘What’s your future going to be if you are already feeling this way?’ ” she said.
“But this has helped me to get to the gym. Eric and I are bike riding, we’re doing things that could help us get healthier,” she said.
The Rathkes often spent time traveling to watch their sons compete in athletics in high school, but now her sons are her coaches and they work out and compete together when they can. Son Tyler is a high school track and field coach in Missouri.
When they can’t practice together, she send her sons videos of her throws and they offer advice.
“I’m continuing to improve my technique because I can’t throw like I did in high school. I told my son I can see in my head what I’m supposed to do but I can’t make my body do it,” she said with a laugh.
Eric has even caught the bug to compete, she said.
“He talked to our boys last summer and said, ‘What do you think I could do?’ ” she said. Tyler suggested javelin.
“After we went to the national games, Eric got inspired, so we’ve purchased a javelin and he’s going to start competing with me as well,” she said.
Rathke hopes others take up competition, inspired by the Baby Boomer generation.
“It’s like they’re redefining what aging looks like in America," she said. "That’s just really inspiring to think you can have whole new careers, find a new passion that maybe you had done before or something new.
“It’s just what do you want to do with aging."