Mike Thornton has seen a wide variety of athletes compete in the Idaho Senior Games.
As the state coordinator of the event, he’s watched a former Olympian compete in the javelin throw, and he’s watched 85-year-olds struggle down the stretch of a 100-meter run.
“They’re not all great athletes, but they just haven’t given up,” Thornton said.
That pretty much sums up Dan Packham.
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Packham has overcome alcoholism and beaten two forms of cancer — and he hasn’t given up. In fact, he has thrived in the Idaho Senior Games.
Packham is one of about 40 Idaho athletes who qualified last year for the National Senior Games that began July 3 in Minneapolis (just as this story was going to press). About 12,000 people will compete in the national event.
Packham earned a bronze medal in the triple jump at the 2013 National Senior Games in Cleveland.
This year, Packham, 61, will be competing in the triple jump July 11 and the long jump July 13.
Packham has already sized up the field he’ll be competing against in the triple jump.
“I did some research on the other guys, and there are maybe six of us who could take it,” he said. “At our age, a lot of it is about who was able to stay the fittest and who didn’t pull a hammy.”
Packham is willing to make light of the events — until it’s time to compete.
“A lot of the athletes are doing it strictly for the fun and the camaraderie,” Thornton said. “But Dan Packham is a very competitive athlete. ... He wants to win, and he wants to go to nationals. He’s part of the group that takes it a little more seriously.”
Packham said he has seven Idaho records, and he takes a pretty simple approach to competing: “I like to do my best.”
He said the Senior Games have given him much-needed goals during some hard days — including when he was battling throat cancer.
“I was having a tough time with the chemo one day and my wife said, ‘You’re going to qualify for (nationals in) Cleveland, and you’re going to go and get a medal,’ ” Packham said. “And I did get a medal, and it was quite a deal.”
Packham said he encourages his peers to get involved with the Senior Games.
“It gives you something to be healthy for and work towards,” he said. “It’s hard to work out when you don’t have a goal.”