Gloria Tolaro’s swimming pool regimen might put many a younger person to shame.
The Ahwatukee woman does 50-yard springs in freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke, as well as 100, 200 and 500-meter freestyle and relays.
She’s 86 years old.
And Tolaro also is the swimming commissioner for the Arizona Senior Olympics, which kicks off next month with a variety of competitive sports for people over 50 years of age throughout the Valley.
The Illinois native, who spent most of her life in Washington State with her husband of 62 years before moving to Ahwatukee in 2012, has taken to water ever since she was in high school, where she had to pass a swimming test required for graduation.
A mother of two and grandmother to three, Tolaro spent her youthful summers as a life guard and swam competitively in college before joining the Army for a while and then becoming an occupational therapist for 32 years.
She liked to run and play soccer goalie until her knees gave out in 62. And that’s when she rediscovered swimming and discovered a new passion, the Senior Olympics.
“At that time, Washington was forming a Senior Olympics program with the YMCA leading the way,” said Tolaro, who had been working for the Y in Bellevue, Washington, after her retirement.
She picked up with swimming, the Y and the Senior Olympics when she moved here, and not only belongs to the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA but also works as a volunteer for its Outreach Program for Ahwatukee Seniors (Y OPAS).
“I am a member of the Saddlebrook Swim Club and compete with them at Arizona Master’s local and state events and the Senior Games,” said the six-time National Senior Games competitor.
She talks with passion about the Arizona Senior Olympics, a nationally affiliated program.
“The Senior Games have grown exponentially over the years,” she said. “Nationals are held every two years and attendance often exceeds that of the Olympics. The Arizona Games started with just 150 people and by 2007, had just under 5,000 senior participating.
“The recession caused a decline for several years, but the games continue to grow each year and are currently exceeding 3,000 participants.”
As a member of the games’ management team, Tolaro helps plan and coordinate the many competitive events and acts as a liaison between the staff and the event commissioners. Her official title is Coordinator of Cycling, Road Races (5Kand 10K) and the Generations Fun Walk.
“We assist with the details of each event, secure volunteers, ensure that the awards presentations are in ceremonious style, ensure the safety of the site and much more,” Tolaro said.
She also is a missionary for the Senior Olympics, and said, “Seniors should sign up because there is something for everyone, from a fun-walk to a triathlon.
“There are statistics that show that those over 50 who are physical active benefit not only physically, but mentally and socially, have lower medical bills and fewer falls. Besides that, it is fun.
“We often hear the reason for not entering is ‘I am not competitive.’ It’s great to win, but the camaraderie of the events is great fun, too,” Tolaro added. “And sometimes you win just by showing up. The goal is the provide an incentive to seniors to get active and stay active. Participation in the games inspires training, and training keeps seniors active and healthy.”
Arizona Senior Olympics. Director Irene Stillwell said that throughout the year, the Arizona Senior Olympics organization serves more than 10,000 people in the state annually.
“The sports we offer are meant to motivate seniors to train,” Stillwell said. “The camaraderie of sports encourages friendship and socialization which is so important to many isolated seniors and many Senior Olympians develop lifelong friendships as the result of being a part of this important program.”