Couple In 80s On Track Again For Senior Olympics

January 13, 1991|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Staff writer

At 82, Harriett Rogers isn't about to wear herself out training for the Senior Olympics.

Although Rogers has won dozens of medals in state and national competition, she considers her everyday chores training enough.

"You live on a 350-acre farm, and you run after ponies all day, you learn how to move," said Rogers, who has lived her whole life on the Olney Pony Farm in Joppa.

Even on the coldest snowy mornings,Rogers says she is up early and out to break the ice so her pure-bred Shetland ponies can get a drink. Feeding and watering 50 ponies keeps her in shape for such events as the 1,500-meter run, the 1,500-meter race walk, the shot put and the long jump.

While Rogers is out tending the ponies, her husband of 23 years, Holden Rogers, 86, isoften taking a brisk walk to keep in shape.

He competes in tennis, a sport he has played for 77 years, as well as shot put and the race walk.

"He can go out and do it whether he feels like it or not," said Harriet Rogers. "He exercises every morning. I wouldn't havethe patience to run up and down the road."

In last October's 11th Annual Maryland Senior Olympics, the couple won medals in every event they entered. Harriet Rogers earned a gold, two silvers and a bronze while her husband picked up two gold and a silver.

The couple were to be honored by Harford County yesterday at Harford Mall along with 28 other county residents for their participation in Senior Olympics.

In June, they will head to Syracuse, N.Y., to compete in their third National Senior Olympics. They went to St. Louis for the event in 1987 and 1989.

The couple have received plenty of support from their families, some of whom have accompanied them to St. Louis. Each has two children from a previous marriage, and between them, theyhave 14 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Harriett Rogers sold most of her 350-acre farm to her son, Dr. William Howard, andher daughter, Frances Flatau. But she held onto the house where she was born, 26 acres and most of the ponies she has been raising professionally since 1921.

She recalled that only once was anyone in thefamily even mildly concerned about the effects of competition.

"After they added the shot put, I told my son I might want to try that,so he said he would get me a shot put. He went into one of the stores and said, 'I want to get a shot put for my mother.' "

"Someone asked him, 'Doesn't it bother you that your mother does all these crazy things?' He said, 'I'll say it does. She might hit one of the dogs.' "

So far the nine dogs that roam the Rogers' front porch haven't suffered. She doesn't get the shot put out very often for training.And she may not work out in the methodical way you'd expect an Olympian to train, but her drive to win is clear.

In the last state competition, she faced a 92-year-old woman in the race walk. "I thought,I have to beat her. I can't go home and say I got beat by a 92-year-old. I really had to work, but I beat her."

"My mother is very, very competitive," said Flatau. "My stepdad is not. He doesn't have a competitive bone in his body."

Rogers ribs her husband about overtaking him in the race for number of great-grandchildren. Both had four great-grandchildren until Harriett Rogers took the lead with her fifth, Amelia Allison McGuirk, Jan. 5.

Harriett Rogers hasn't missed a single state Senior Olympics competition, but her husband did miss one. He stayed home to help with preparations for the wedding of his wife's granddaughter. Harriett Rogers got home in time for the ceremony, but she wouldn't miss her races.

Holden Rogers, on the other hand, sometimes needs a little prodding to get the competitive juices flowing, said Flatau, who, herself, won a gold medal in the javelin last October in her first Senior Olympics.

"The first time we went to St. Louis, we had to work him up for his tennis match. Against us, he did all kinds of little cuts and things and beat us, so you would think he would do that against this guy. But no. We finally told him that the other guy had said all these things about how he was going to beat my stepdad. And he (Holden Rogers) went out and beat him."

Holden Rogers insists he has the same drive as his wife.

But there aren't many competitors in the 85-89 age group. Often he will win medals uncontested in the Maryland Senior Olympics, so he is more interested in simply getting out and playing the game.

"The first time we went to St. Louis, I played a tennis match against a fellow who appeared completely sound of mind and limb," said Holden Rogers, a retired investment banker. "But when the match was over, he pulled out nitroglycerin. He said he had angina. He could have gone like that,but he said, 'That's how I want to go.' That tells you something."

The couple began their association with Senior Olympics in 1979 after seeing the event advertised in a newspaper. "I thought, 'I can do that,' " recalled Harriett Rogers. "I used to do a lot of stuff in school; track and basketball. Besides, I was just a kid. I was 72."

Staying active has kept them younger, says the couple. Harriett Rogers said she can remember only one inactive period in her life. About15 years ago, she hurt her back playing tennis with her husband. Shedidn't do much for about six months, and then she suffered a mild stroke.

"I think I had it because I was sitting there doing nothing,which is bad news," said Harriett Rogers.

"If I didn't (take careof the ponies and compete in Senior Olympics), I'd sit here with this stove, and I'd rot away to nothing, and I wouldn't be worth a kitty," she said as two of her five house cats battled for position on herlap.

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