FAIRBANKS — At 98 years old, Bettie Upright is guaranteed medals in the Alaska International Senior Games.
The former Fairbanks North Star Borough School District subsititute teacher is the oldest among the AISG’s 320 entries in the multi-sport competition for people ages 50 and older.
“I’m happy to be here,’’ Upright said. “There’s no program for it. The good Lord lets you live. If it’s your time, you go, and it’s not my time.
“My husband is 86 and he says I rob the cradle,’’ Upright added with a laugh.
The participants come from around the state, the nation and from Canada.
There are no other competitors in Upright’s age group in the AISG, which started Friday and runs through Aug. 18 at various venues in the Fairbanks area.
At 98, Upright also is an inspiration in the games.
“I want to be like her when I grow up,” 58-year-old runner Jane Lanford, a member of the AISG board of directors, said with a smile.
Don Kiely, a fellow board member, started the torch relay during Friday night’s opening ceremonies at Pioneer Park. Kiely entered the park with the torch, then handed it off to Lanford, who then gave it to Upright to light the cauldron.
Upright later declared, “Let the Senior Games begin!’’, drawing a rousing ovation from many of the competitors and their families and supporters who gathered Friday for the opening ceremonies.
Upright has entered every AISG since ithe first one took place 11 years ago.
“All the people, nice people and they’re ready to go,’’ Upright said of the reason she’s a frequent participant in the games.
The mother of four and native of San Diego is entered in bowling and bocce this year.
“The key is practice and to keep doing it,” Upright said of bowling, which she didn’t start doing until she was 70. She recorded a 221 score when she was 96 years old.
Upright’s goals for the AISG’s bowling and bocce events are simple.
“Oh, to not do too badly,’’ she said.
Diann Darnell, president of the AISG board of directors, estimates that 10 percent of this year’s entries are first-timers to the games.
Among them is Barbara Shew. She lives in Wasilla, but the 72-year-old Navy veteran and former Maryland state trooper wasn’t aware of the games until this year. Shew is entered in the indoor shooting competition on Wednesday at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Range.
“It’s a personal challenge,” Shew said. “I’m a Navy veteran and I learned to shoot during Vietnam and I was a police officer for many years. I got retired by being injured in the line of duty.
“So the chance to shoot is good, because I can’t walk well enough to go hunting,’’ she added.
Shew moved around in a wheelchair on Friday at Pioneer Park. Her condition was the result of severe injuries from a stabbing attack neary 30 years ago while she was on police duty.
Shew said a contract was put on her after she arrested 13 people in one family for an incident.
“They didn’t want me to go to court and I had heard they had put a contract on me,’’ Shew recalled. “They got someone out of (Washington) D.C. — an addict, gave him some money and pointed me out.”
Shew said her atttacker was never arrested.
She is looking forward to the AISG competition, her first shooting event in about 40 years.
“Gold for the rifle and first, second or third for the pistol,’’ Shew said of her goals Wednesday.
Geri Grodzinsky, a 63-year-old from Henderson, Nev., first came to the AISG two years ago and competed in table tennis. She’s back this year with her husband, Marco Najera, for the inaugural pickleball competition.
Pickleball is a blend of tennis, badminton and table tennis and the AISG event takes place Tuesday and Thursday at the Alaska Club South. It’s also among the more popular AISG events, attracting 51 entries.
Najera, 56, and Grodzinsky played in the pickleball competition at the Huntsman Senior Games in Utah two years ago.
“We got killed, but I said, ‘Wow! I can get into this sport. It’s so awesome!,’’ Najera said.
Thomas Parlee is entered in the AISG as a track and field competitor but he’s also an observer of the 10-day games.
The 66-year-old is director oft he Elder Active Association in Whitehorse, Yukon, and one of Canada’s national directors for its 55-Plus Senior Games.
“I’m interested seeing organization and how things work, and compare notes,” Parlee said.
Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586.