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AGE MEANS NOTHING TO THESE ATHLETES : VALLEY SENIORS BRING HOME THE OLYMPIC GOLD.

Byline: Carol Bidwell Daily News Staff Writer

Ruth Mollet had been bedridden for six months. Her back ached from a 50-year-old injury aggravated by a recent boating accident. Her knees and shoulders were stiff from arthritis.

That's when Mollet, 77, of Northridge made a deal with herself.

``I said, `If I ever get out of this mess, I'm going to take care of myself,''' she said.

She did that and more.

Once she was able to move around, Mollet signed on with a Chatsworth health spa and eased into the pool, where the water's buoyancy made movement easier. Soon, she was paddling around, then swimming laps.

Less than a year later, she signed up - a bit hesitantly - to swim in the 25-meter race at the Crown Valley Senior Olympic Games sponsored by the Pasadena Senior Center.

To her surprise, she walked away with the 1996 Gold Medal for swimming. And she was hooked.

Since that day, Mollet has been in training for her second race, a 50-meter freestyle at this year's games. The sporting events began Saturday and will continue through May 10.

``Being able to do this just makes you feel like age doesn't mean anything,'' Mollet said. ``You can do anything you want if you try.

``Your age doesn't matter; it's your attitude,'' she said.

That could be the motto for nearly 1,500 senior athletes from the San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas who'll compete in events ranging from in-line skating to fly casting, softball to power lifting, billiards to tennis, bowling to archery, basketball to track and field. The San Fernando Valley-based Senior Olympics is one of 11 similar events that will be staged this spring throughout California. Participants in the local events can advance to competition at the summer 1998 state event to be held in Pasadena. Winners of those state games can compete in the 1999 nationals in Orlando, Fla.

Exploding stereotypes

These rigorous athletic competitions explode outdated attitudes that older people are unhealthy, uninterested and inactive, said Gloria Mushonga-Roberts, event spokeswoman.

``The more you do, the more you can do,'' Mushonga-Roberts said. ``The senior center got involved in the Senior Olympics in 1993, figuring that if you pump a little iron, you may be able to carry your own groceries a little easier or pick up your grandchild. And some people have taken it so much farther than that. Some people have this competitive attitude that's never satisfied. They love it.''

George Kelemen, 75, of Van Nuys, is one of those lifelong competitors. Born in Hungary, where table tennis is a national sport, he started playing when he was only 5.

``I'm pretty good at it,'' Kelemen said. ``I've been in the Senior Olympics for the past 16 years and won 33 medals. And I expect to win again this year because I'm playing with the same partner.''

In addition, he has collected 134 trophies from competitions worldwide. He has been nominated for membership in the traveling worldwide Table Tennis Hall of Fame (``I expect to get in next year''), and he'll travel to Laguna Beach in June to compete in the national table tennis championships.

His training regimen consists of practice two nights a week, four hours at a time, at a recreation center in Reseda.

Besides being a good workout for the arms, shoulders, back and legs (``I haven't been to see a doctor in 50 years''), the game has also kept his vision acute, he said.

``It's very good for your eyeballs,'' Kelemen said. ``They get a continuous workout following the ball.''

An embarrassed winner

Lee Goldstein, 71, of Encino, who says racquetball gives him a vigorous workout several times a week, brought home six gold medals from last year's Senior Olympics.

But he's almost embarrassed to talk about them.

``In my age group (71-74), there's not really much competition,'' Goldstein said with a laugh. ``When I'm not competing (in the Olympics), I generally play people in their 40s and on up.''

He started out more than two decades ago playing handball, then a friend challenged him to learn racquetball, a sport of smashing racquets and rocketing balls. He was a fast learner. Last year, he won a gold medal in the state finals of the Senior Olympics in Sacramento and will travel in May to the national finals in Tucson, Ariz.

``It's not a sport for a weekend athlete,'' Goldstein said. ``It's a terrific workout. It's very competitive. Outside of running, you burn up more calories than any other sport. It keeps your circulation going and your reflexes sharp.''

Mollet said she chose to swim to regain her mobility because it seemed easier on her aching joints than other exercises.

``Swimming's ideal because you don't put any strain on your muscles,'' she said.

To keep fit, she swims at least three times a week at a Chatsworth health spa for 30 to 40 minutes at a time, longer when her arthritis isn't acting up.

Mollet is looking forward to taking home another gold medal this year, using her accomplishments to motivate her 15-year-old grandson, who lives in Virginia. His mother was afraid he'd get hurt if he played football, so his grandmother has challenged him to be the best swimmer he can be. When they talk on the phone or visit, they compare times and numbers of laps completed. He's gaining on her, which makes her happy.

``He's really working hard,'' she said. ``That's good. No matter how old you are, you've got to challenge yourself.''

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos

Photo: (1--Cover--Color) Different strokes for older folks

Athletes go for the gold in Senior Olympics

(2) ``Being able to do this just makes you feel like age doesn't mean anything. You can do anything you want if you try. Your age doesn't matter; it's your attitude,'' says Ruth Mollet, 77, who won a gold medal in the 25-meter race in 1996.

Phil McCarten/Daily News

(3) ``I'm pretty good at it. I've been in the Senior Olympics for the past 16 years and won 33 medals. And I expect to win again this year because I'm playing with the same partner,'' says George Kelemen, 75, who has won 134 trophies in table tennis competitions.

Tom Mendoza/Daily News
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 28, 1997
Words:1039
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