DENTAC commander named Senior Games ambassador
May 24, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Col. Jamie Houston has been tapped to become a featured athlete in the National Senior Games Association's "Personal Best" tour.
The 60-year-old Fort Jackson DENTAC commander is the only active-duty military athlete to be taking part in national Senior Games events, which he's been involved with since returning from deployment in Iraq in 2005. His first attempt to sign up for Senior Games competitions that year arrived too late, though he quickly persuaded organizers to change their minds.
"They said I was too late, so I asked if I could use the 'Iraqi waiver,'" Houston said. Because overseas deployment caused him to miss the filing deadline, the organization was willing to make an exception. Houston competed in five events and took home five medals in the 2005 Senior Games events, he said.
"Most folks in the military retire around 47 or 48," Houston said. "I'm the only active duty guy they know of who's qualified for nationals."
"Houston takes fitness to a serious level and is still out there training himself," said Marc Riker, CEO of the National Senior Games Association. "He's 60 years old, competing with 18 to 20 year olds and going toe-to-toe with them. He'll be a goodwill ambassador for us. We're counting on him to let people know there's an opportunity here to get involved, especially in the South Carolina area where he lives."
Houston has been active in athletics since he was a child. He gravitated toward sports at an early age because, as the smallest child in his class, he said it was a way to boost his self-esteem.
"I later went to college on a scholarship," he said. "I went to junior college on a basketball scholarship, another university on a baseball scholarship and was drafted by the New York Mets when I was 20."
He walked away from the potential career as a professional baseball player, though, in order to concentrate on his education, he said.
"My dad said, 'Go back at 22 to play professional ball. You'll have a degree, you'll be much stronger and be a better baseball player.' It made sense to me," he said. "But that opportunity never presented itself again, so I went to dental school. I didn't play for the Mets. I got drafted and turned down the bonus, based on my dad's guidance. He was my coach and knew my strengths and weaknesses."
Looking back, he calls it "probably the worst decision of my life.
"I thought I'd get another chance," he said. "When the opportunity didn't present itself again, I'd see some of my classmates and teammates in the pros and think to myself, 'If they could have done it, I could have done it.'"
Houston also switched sports during his senior year in college because the time needed to focus on baseball began to take its toll on his education.
"I didn't think I'd get into dental school because my grades were suffering," he said. "I was an all-sport guy -- anything to pay my way through college, because I didn't have enough money for college."
Today, Houston remains fit and active. His resting heart rate is 44 beats per minute, which he says is well below the average. He said it requires diligence to stay fit as you get older.
"Physically, you're not as capable of (doing) what you used to do, but your mind says you are," he said. "Preparation is key. There's a lot more stretching and a lot more warming up than there was 10 years ago. The warm-up is critical now."
His interest in athletics also carried over to his family. When his son turned 6, Houston said he started to look for activities his family could do together. This led to his son and daughter taking tennis lessons, which Houston said actually improved his own game.
"When my son was 13, I told him that when he could beat me two out of three sets, I'd give him $5,000," Houston said. "That was an investment philosophy. He finally beat me at age 18, at which time he got a tennis scholarship. It also improved my game by playing my son, because I didn't want him to beat me. Not just because of the money, but because of the father-son connection."
Despite their different backgrounds, Senior Games athletes have a handful of traits in common, Riker said. The concept behind the "Personal Best" featured athletes is to redefine a "personal best" that anyone can achieve. It is not a best moment in sport; it is about the ongoing journey to strive for the best results in a healthy, active lifestyle.
"The athletes have a deep passion for others," Riker said. "They've put others above even themselves. They're there not just for an opportunity to keep themselves fit, but to create that option or avenue for others. It's not a selfish thing. They've turned it around and brought the whole community in."
"We're the ambassadors for our age group," Houston said. "Some of them are 70 years old, one of them is 92 years old. I'm the youngster of the lot. And a lot of folks have lost their spouses, so it's an incredible social tool. It keeps you in shape; you're meeting new people; and you're travelling and competing. It's a three-for-one special."
Riker said the mission of Senior Games extends beyond the competitions.
"There are athletic opportunities for everyone to do," Riker said. "Get out, get active and be involved. Find your neighbors, your friends, your colleagues and get active. Start at any level you can. On post, there are so many facilities ... to get involved in."
Houston agreed, saying the Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs make it incredibly easy for Soldiers and families to stay active.
"MRW does such an incredible job, and I don't know that we take advantage of it fully," he said. "If you want to live longer, it's mandatory that you take care of your body and get into shape."
The National Senior Games are scheduled from July 19 through Aug. 1 in Cleveland.