Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 19, 2012

Defying age, defining champions

New PBS documentary about Senior Olympics to screen Monday in Palo Alto

by Tyler Hanley

A new documentary film is proving that for some athletes, getting older is not a deterrent — it's a motivator.

"Age of Champions" focuses on several senior athletes as they prepare for the 2009 Summer National Senior Games, commonly known as the Senior Olympics. Much of the film was shot during the competition at Stanford University.

The 55-minute documentary will be screened Monday, Oct. 22, at 2 p.m. at the Albert & Janet Schultz Cultural Arts Hall on the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto. The film will also air on PBS next summer.

"Age of Champions" was the brainchild of the Sacramento-based filmmaking team of producer Keith Ochwat and director Christopher Rufo. The 28-year-old filmmakers have been friends since high school and launched the Documentary Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based out of Sacramento, after traveling to Mongolia in 2006 and producing their first documentary short for PBS, "Roughing It." Ochwat said the idea for "Age" came after meeting Senior Games CEO Anne Warner Cribbs at a conference for nonprofits.

"When we heard about the subject, we knew we had to make a film," Ochwat said. "We knew instantly we wanted to tell a story about the Senior Olympics."

Ochwat said the Documentary Foundation partnered with the National Senior Games Association and a casting call was put out to the Senior Games athletes. After considering more than 1,000 responses, Ochwat and Rufo settled on a handful of athletes from across the country, including 100-year-old tennis player Roger Gentilhomme of Cape Cod, Mass.; 88- and 90-year-old swimmers John and Bradford Tatum of Washington, D.C.; 86-year-old pole vaulter Adolph Hoffman of Somerset, Texas; and the Tigerettes, a 65+ basketball team from Baton Rouge, La.

Ochwat, Rufo and the rest of the filmmaking team spent two months filming the athletes in their hometowns before moving on to Stanford for the official Games. Ochwat said the goal of the Documentary Foundation and the film itself is to encourage people to live a more active and healthy life.

"'Age of Champions' has really been an inspiration for a lot of people to do so," he said.

Rufo said both he and Ochwat learned a lot while making the documentary.

"Before we made the film, we thought the secret to staying fit as you age had to do with good genes or eating healthy," he said. "We discovered that a strong sense of community and encouragement are actually the secret ingredients. We hope this film influences seniors to live a healthy lifestyle and enjoy the community atmosphere around them."

As Ochwat and Rufo prepare for the film's broadcast on PBS next summer, they have launched a grass-roots campaign to encourage healthy living, with 3,000 screenings across the country in places such as theaters, retirement communities and fitness centers. Monday's showing is being hosted by Moldaw Residences, the first senior-living community in the South Bay to screen the film, organizers said.

"This highly inspirational film proves that you can follow your dreams at any age," Gerry Vadnais, executive director of Moldaw Residences, stated in a press release. "We cannot wait to meet the director and share the encouraging message with the community."

Rufo will be in attendance Monday and will host a Q&A after the screening, and Pat Keller, a 93-year-old Menlo Park swimmer who appears in the film, will also attend and see the documentary for the first time.

"Being around inspiring older adults has made this a fantastic project to work on," Ochwat said.

What: "Age of Champions," a documentary film about the 2009 Summer National Senior Games

Where: Albert & Janet Schultz Cultural Arts Hall on the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life, 899 East Charleston Road, Palo Alto

When: Monday, Oct. 22, at 2 p.m.

Cost: Free and open to the public

Info: www.Moldaw.org/Events or 800-873-9614

Palo Alto Online Editor Tyler Hanley can be emailed at thanley@paweekly.com.

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