Caroline Vulgamore: Nothing holds us back

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More than a year later, their cutting remarks still resound.

"Volleyball? Sounds great, Mom, but why would you do that?"

My daughters couldn't believe it. All three of them were the athletes-I never succeeded at sports.

At almost 72, I'm on a championship senior women's volleyball team and loving it. I look forward to our practices and I'm improving. Maybe it's the "muscle memory" thing. Through years of hiking, I've maintained endurance, but now I've gained more energy and I'm training my brain for quick decisions.

Our team is the brainchild of Linda Glick and Mary Ann Kluge, two professors from Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Colorado Springs who teach students to serve older adults. At the age of 66, Linda had won gold medals in the Rocky Mountain State Games and then the Senior Olympics, participating in the long jump and the 100 meter run. She wanted to do more. Mary Ann suggested organizing a volleyball team for women over 65.

With a PhD in gerontology, Mary Ann understood the importance of exercise for seniors. A fitness instructor and personal trainer, she'd coached people of all ability levels. She volunteered her services for the new team and recruited students from the college as assistants. They're coaching women old enough to be their grandmothers.

We used the volleyball courts at the new UCCS Recreation Center in the early mornings. Serving as captain, Linda dubbed us the "Glams," designed game shirts and developed a fight song.

At first, I felt like a fraud, weighing my skills against the others. Most had been athletic all their lives. Our oldest player, at 76, still plays softball and basketball, and our 74-year-old, originally from Germany, wins international awards in track and field.

I hadn't played volleyball since high school gym classes. I didn't want to embarrass myself or let the team down. Arms in the requisite "V" position, my passes landed out of bounds, and my serves didn't clear the net. No one seemed to mind. Instead I kept hearing, "You're getting so much better."

Last September the Glams were named champs in our age group at the Rocky Mountain Senior Games, qualifying for the 2009 Nationals. I spent some time on the bench, but when I served, I scored points for our team twice. Not being the star player didn't matter. I was having fun.

We added another practice venue, Big House Sports, off Fountain and Powers Blvd. This summer we're meeting there two and three times a week.

The constant drilling - serving, tracking, hitting and passing - is paying off. We've bonded, supporting and assisting each other. Nothing holds us back, not even a pacemaker, hip replacement, shoulder and back surgeries. Did I mention arthritis? Husbands, children and grandchildren cheering, we're serious competitors.

"You guys are a joy," assistant coach Jess Hildebrand laughs. "Most coaches have to answer to parents. I have to face my players' grown children."

As head coach, Mary Ann Kluge's enthusiasm keeps us going.

"Anticipate!" she yells to us. She tells us to call it before it comes over the net. Talk to each other. And never say 'sorry.'" Her energy and commitment permeate the atmosphere.

In mid-August we'll travel to Palo Alto for the 2009 National Senior Games. Volleyball teams with women over 65 have registered from five other states.

We're ready for them.

Best of all, last week my daughter called to say, "Mom, I'm proud of you."

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