Williston resident competes in Summer National Senior Games (7/30/09)

July 30, 2009

By Ben Portnoy

Observer correspondent

Since first starting to play racquetball in 1978, Williston resident Les Hankins Jr. now finds himself competing in his first Summer National Senior Games.

Hankins has stuck with the sport for so many years simply for the love of the game.

“I enjoy the competition,” Hankins said. “More importantly, the people that I play with and against are superb human beings.”

Currently, Hankins plays at least twice per week at Sports & Fitness Edge in Williston. So, how did the 66-year-old decide to take his 31-year-old healthy hobby to the next level?

In 2004, after spending 30 years in Maryland, Hankins and his wife uprooted and moved to Williston to be closer to Hankins’ family.  Hankins said he was convinced by a relative, who had competed in the Senior Games since 1993, to take his passion for racquetball to the next level by qualifying for the 2009 Senior Games.

Last June, Hankins competed in a qualifying tournament at Lyndon State College in Lyndonville. He then found out in January that he had qualified for this year’s Senior Games. Hankins will compete in racquetball singles and doubles, with partner Brian Crandall of Waitsfield.

Taking place Aug. 1-15 in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, the Summer National Senior Games is a biennial Olympic style competition for athletes 50 and older. A torch run and Opening Ceremonies precede the competitive events.

Competitions for the 2009 Senior Games cover 18 sports, including archery, cycling, golf and track and field. The Celebration of Athletes Ceremony and the awarding of medals to winners is also part of the Senior Games.

Hankins admits that he has never competed in a tournament of this size, but he is still going for gold.

“I hope to be the last man standing. I know it’s very difficult to achieve, but I have the racquetball maturity and I think I’m fit enough,” Hankins said. “I at least want to give Vermont a good show.”

Natalie Varty, the 2009 Senior Games Media Team contact, noted that Hankins “is extremely proud that he has never stepped away from the game and is able to compete in this year’s games.”

Setting potential success in the 2009 Senior Games aside, Hankins says it is up in the air as to whether he would like to attend the 2011 Senior Games in Houston, Texas.

“Time will tell,” Hankins said. “After the first experience, one needs to savor the play and the organization. I’m kind of on the fence.”

Still, Hankins is only focusing on the challenges that await him in the next two weeks.

“It’ll be a great time,” Hankins said. “I’m really looking forward to it and I’ll give it all I can.”

The Observer’s sports correspondent, Mal Boright, will also compete at the Senior Games in basketball. Karin Thomsen of Williston also qualified for volleyball, but is no longer registered for the Games, according to Varty.