Cancer isn't about to keep longtime former Creve Coeur resident Ron Szweda away from the St. Louis Senior Olympics this weekend. The games begin Thursday with an opening ceremony at and continue through Monday.
"It gives us a motivation to continue to stay in condition and to exercise all year long," said Szweda, 72, about the games. "Because you can't—at least in my case, and I think in most people's cases—you just can't come out."
Instead, would-be competitors have to remain fit. So Szweda heads to in Creve Coeur at least three days each week, sometimes four. The building sits near an office he maintains in the city, and he's familiar with the machines at the facility. The retired certified public accountant lived in Creve Coeur for 38 years before relocating to Clayton earlier this month.
Szweda, who began participating in the Senior Olympics at age 55, is preparing for a long list of competitive events. They are the 50, 100 and 200-meter dashes; discus, football and softball throws; and the running long jump and triple jump.
"It's a rather full schedule," Szweda said. He acknowledges that he probably won't be able to participate in all of them, particularly the 200-meter dash. Szweda learned in January that the cancer in his body had spread to his bones and sacrum, or tail bone. The two new drugs he is taking have weakened him.
But after debating about whether to participate at all, Szweda said, he determined that speculation wasn't going to get him anywhere.
He wants to get out there and do what he can.
He intends to defend some of his medals. He also looks forward to the camaraderie, he said. He'll check up on old friends and compete alongside great athletes.
Szweda especially enjoys track-and-field events. He began participating in them when he was about 16. It didn't matter that he wasn't very big: He weighed 137 pounds upon graduating from high school, and he now weighs 163 pounds.
"You are reasonably matched weight-wise with an opponent," Szweda said.
The events also can provide personal satisfaction.
"I am performing against myself, not necessarily all of my opponents," he said. "… I am doing that, too, but I have to be happy with myself."
He's got a big support network.
Szweda's wife, Carol, competed in tennis and three-on-three basketball in the Senior Olympics. At age 55, she set a record in a competitive St. Charles County athletic event, making 24 out of 25 free throws. She stopped competing about five years ago because of asthma.
Now 70, she attends workout sessions with her husband and watches him compete. Some of their children and grandchildren also pull for him at various events.
"It's something I look forward to every year," Carol Szweda said. She gets to see women with whom she used to play basketball, and she's enjoyed getting to know the volunteers who run games.
One of Ron Szweda's proudest moments in the Senior Olympics happened at Washington University.
The day had been windy and cold. A runner from Cincinnati had defeated him in the 200-meter dash.
Ron Szweda answered the loss by beating the same runner in the 100-meter dash.
The victory earned him a gold medal.
The athlete said he is glad to be going to this year's Senior Olympics, though he is saddened by the fact that some of his friends will no longer be participating.
But preparing to join in the following year's events keeps Szweda motivated.
"We're all going down little by little, it seems," Szweda said, "but I just want to go out there and see what I can do again this year."
, 755 S. Price Rd. in Ladue Standing long jump 10 a.m. Saturday John Burroughs Football throws for accuracy and distance 9 a.m. Sunday Baer Ball Fields at (JCC), 2 Millstone Campus Dr. in Creve Coeur Discus throw 10:20 a.m. Sunday John Burroughs Running long jump 10:20 a.m. Sunday John Burroughs 50-meter dash 10:35 a.m. Sunday John Burroughs Softball throws for accuracy and distance 11 a.m. Sunday JCC Triple jump 9 a.m. Monday John Burroughs 100-meter dash 9:15 a.m. Monday John Burroughs