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Oldest athlete in seniors games, 101, aiming for more medals in javelin

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SHERWOOD PARK, Alta. - Florence Storch is a little old lady with a really big stick.

The 101-year-old from Hanna, Alta., has been competing for about a decade in javelin at both the seniors provincial and national levels. And Thursday, she'll be doing it again, tossing the long spear in the over-85 category at the Canada 55-Plus Games in Strathcona County east of Edmonton.

Event organizers say Storch will be the oldest athlete at the Games, a title she has held for the last few instalments.

But Storch says it's no big deal.

"I don't like a fuss," says the feisty centenarian.

She says she's healthy and fit, although not as athletic as she used to be. She jokes about looking more like she's 110.

When she started the sport in her 90s, she says she was able to get a running start on throwing the javelin. But now she's not so steady on her feet and stands in the same spot.

"In my right hand, I have the javelin. My left hand — the walker's right there, so if I need it, I grab it. It's safer."

Her eyesight is not so good these days either, she says.

And the javelin keeps gaining size on her. She used to stand about five feet tall, but she's shrunk a bit over the last few years. The women's javelin measures slightly longer than two metres (seven feet).

Still, Storch wants to keep competing.

She says her husband, who died 15 years ago, would have told her: "If you want to do it, go ahead and do it."

Storch grew up on a farm and worked as a teacher in a rural schoolhouse, where she often played sports with her students. She later married Bill Storch, a farmer, and raised three boys.

She "accidentally got into this javelin thing" while helping organize the seniors games when the event was in her home town. She noticed no one had signed up for javelin, so she wrote her name down.

She did poorly that first year but was determined to keep trying. "I decided if I'm going to do this, I'm going to train."

Storch sought out the athletic coach at the local high school and he agreed to help her so she could compete again the next year.

After a couple of years, she actually got quite good, she says, and started winning medals.

One of her gold medals hangs in a frame on the wall of her room at the Hanna Seniors Lodge. The same javelin she borrowed from the high school to train that first year is propped up in her clothes closet.

When the weather is good — dry with little wind — a friend or volunteer carries the weapon through the lodge and they head out behind the building near some horseshoe pits for practice.

Each time she pitches the javelin, her assistant has to fetch it for her.

Storch describes her technique:

"You balance it right and hold it right and put it at the right angle, just about as high as your ear — for me. And tip it the right way, throw it properly and have it pierce the ground — that's the thing.

"Anybody can throw it, but you've got to learn how to pierce the ground ... If you don't pierce the ground, don't bother measuring. It doesn't count."

Storch can't recall her personal best, and her family hasn't kept track of her distances.

Her 70-year-old son Ed has also competed in several seniors games in the sprint event and calls his mother a "hard act to follow."

Although she hasn't been injured while throwing the javelin, he worries about her.

"She could easily break a bone, or so many things could go wrong," he says. "But she wants to go."

And saying "no" to your mother is never easy, he says.

He plans to be on the field cheering her on, along with some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Organizers say Storch is one of only two athletes signed up in the over-85 category for javelin, considered a niche sport when it comes to seniors.

Storch says she plans on winning big.

"You've got to make up your mind and I've made up my mind — I'm going to get a gold."

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