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Two tough rackets

Over the years, these players have become famous in the badminton world.
Monday, June 28, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:27 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

St. Louis’ Dick Witte and Wesley Finke play badminton with fierce determination. They are one of the best doubles teams in the nation, and last year they won the Senior Olympics in Baton Rouge, La.

Witte and Finke played in the Senior State Games on Sunday at the MU Rec Center.

Witte, 78, has been playing for 66 years. He won the Missouri State Junior Championship in 1939 and is in the Badminton Hall of Fame as a senior, and continues to play on the national circuit.

“A funny statistic about me,” Witte said. “I’ve hit like four million birds and run around the world three times on a badminton court.”

Finke, 77, started playing 30 years ago with neighborhood friends and family, then decided to try playing in tournaments. He has traveled around the world to play, including Malaysia, where badminton is popular.

For most of the competitors, the games were more about the opportunity to play than winning, but it was serious business for Witte and Finke. To qualify for nationals next summer in Pittsburgh, teams must win a silver or gold at the state level.

Sunday, there weren’t enough teams in each age division, so officials combined the groups for round robin matches. Witte and Finke lost to Peter Cheng and Joe Gamlin, who are in the 55-59 division, in an intense match.

“They are like legends in this sport, they’re as good as it gets,” Gamlin said.

— Andrea Nigh

10K road race

They talked as if they had been friends for ages.

The top three finishers in the Missouri Senior State Games’ 10K Road Race on Sunday morning were discussing how they ran.

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Rudy Kelley, 63, of Columbia, had just beat first-time participants Jack Uhrig of Marshall and Gilbert Castillo of Kansas City, both 50. Kelley, who also won the 5K Road Race on Saturday, won Sunday’s event in 41 minutes, 57 seconds.

Kelley said he knew he was not alone in front anymore when he looked back and saw Uhrig’s yellow tank top. Uhrig couldn’t catch Kelley, though, finishing second at 42:12.

Uhrig decided his strategy while running with Castillo and broke to catch Kelley at the 3 1/2 mile mark.

“We were talking about how (Kelley) might not be able to hold that pace,” Castillo said. “That’s the key if he can hold that pace we are in trouble, and if he can’t we might be able to catch him. Then, Jack said, ‘I am going to go catch him’ and I said, ‘OK, I just don’t have it in me.’ He took off, he tried hard.”

Uhrig said they figured out Kelley’s racing style after seeing Kelley run the 800 meters on Saturday. Uhrig said he knew that if he did not catch Kelley by the curve it would be over, and he was right.

The three runners met through running, getting to know each other at numerous races over the years. They talk about racing as if they are competing on the highest levels.

“Most of us have probably all been competing since high school or junior high,” Uhrig said. “I am still competing against the same guys as some of the ones I ran against in junior high. So, I don’t see myself as any different as I did when I was in high school, except slower.”

Castillo said he does not feel 50 mentally. He realizes that his body has to adjust to age, but Castillo says he is running good times for someone his age.

“We usually beat the guys between the ages of 35 and 40 in any road races we run, because we have been doing this so long,” Castillo said.

“When I look back, younger kids are working on their career and they have kids, so they don’t have as much time to train. See, we have already done all that, so we have a little bit more time to dream. Our jobs are settled, we have a career, and we know how important this is.”

Castillo and Uhrig say they plan their lives around running. They both try to workout at least twice a day and plan their work days around races. Castillo just came back from California where he had a conference for software programming, and he made sure to find a race to run while he was there.

“Racing season usually starts around February with the Groundhog Run and it ends for me at the Christmas Run,” Castillo said. “So, I do two races a month, sometimes three.”

Uhrig said he probably would not stop running until “they find me dead on the street.”

Castillo said he is planning to slow down around 65, but he still would like to run a six-minute mile when he turns 60.

— Tammy Portnoy

Shooting sports

The sport of shooting changed MaryAnn Gates’ impressions of retirement.

Gates, 58, of Columbia, was one of three women who competed in the Missouri State Senior Games’ shooting events Sunday at the Cedar Creek Rod and Gun Club. Gates earned gold medals in American skeet, modern skeet and skeet doubles in her eighth appearance in the games.

Gates said her husband, Ralph, began teaching her the sport about 15 years ago and she became obsessed with it. The Gates bought the gun club seven years ago after MaryAnn Gates retired from teaching English at Hickman High.

“It changed my life after retirement.” MaryAnn Gates said. “I thought I would be reading books, but I’m not.”

The sport has become indispensable to the Gates, who bring a guidebook listing shooting clubs from across the country along anytime they travel.

“If we are going on vacation, we take our shotguns with us,” MaryAnn Gates said. “For instance, last fall, we went to Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee, and we shot in all of those states. We shot in 16 clubs in 20 days.”

Ralph Gates, who has been involved in the sport for 25 years and has hunted since he was 8, said the best part of the sport is that age and gender don’t matter as much as they do in other sports.

“Sex and age really have no barriers other than the older you get, you get more experience,” Ralph Gates said.

Ralph Gates earned three gold medals while making almost perfect scores, shooting 49 targets out of 50 in three events. He said the key is mental discipline.

“It only takes about 1.8 seconds between when you call for the pull and you actually shoot it,” Ralph Gates said. “The ability to maintain that focus at right time is one of the toughest parts.”

Tom Vanoordt, 48, of St. Charles, who came to see his friends compete, said he wished he were older.

“I just enjoy watching these guys at this level, shooting extremely high scores,” Vanoordt said. “As soon as I become 50, I’ll participate in the event. I am looking forward to it.”

— Kosuke Kinashi

Cycling

More than 30 years ago, Walter Bohn parked his sports car in the garage and didn’t drive it again until he moved in 1992. He discovered his love for cycling and rode wherever his car took him.

Bohn, 76, started competing six years ago and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. He traveled from Bartlesville, Okla., to compete in the games’ cycling competition Saturday and Sunday at Hatton Middle School.

Sunday’s 10K was his best showing ever as he won the gold in his age group and qualified for nationals with a time of 52.30. Saturday he took third in the 40K road race.

“I felt good,” Bohn said. “We had a tailwind going out (Sunday), so that helps.”

Although Bohn said he felt good today, he is no stranger to injuries. Last May he was involved in a 12-rider crash. Bohn wasn’t aware of the severity of his fall and it wasn’t until a few days later that he learned he had a cerebral hematoma and a broken rib. Two months after that, though, he found himself competing in races again.

His wife Betty said she remembers the wreck well.

“He did finish,” Betty said, “they were within about a mile and half of the end and he was certain he was going to take first or second … he got up and finished and took sixth.”

Said Bohn, “I do it just to say I’ve done it.”

Jack Tatum, who rides with Bohn in the Bartlesville Peddlers Club, also made the trip to compete in his fourth year in the games.

Columbia’s CJ Bierschwal, 80, was the only one in his age bracket and finished the 10K in 1:15.25.

— Andrea Nigh


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