You might call Eugene a late bloomer. After all, it took him until his ninth decade to reach the height of his sport.

I met Eugene over a month ago. As I looked over his information and chatted with him, I imagined he was like a lot of other patients I see. He was 85, and from the sound of it he needed some help with his knees.

His X-rays confirmed he had advanced arthritis in both knees. Eugene told me he had pain while walking and climbing stairs.

I began to discuss my approach to treating arthritis, knowing I could help him get back to typical activities for an athletic senior. I imagined he might want to walk nine holes while playing golf or to play doubles tennis, like many of my other patients.

Instead, Eugene politely corrected me. He had a race coming up and had heard about injections that might make his knees hurt less. A race?

Eugene explained further: He is a sprinter. Each year he competes in the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the Maine Senior Games.

Last year he placed second, mostly because he got tired coming around the backstretch and slowed down. Before that, he had led the entire way.

Eugene explained that his knees were letting him down.

“As I have gotten older, fewer and fewer people compete. Now there is just one fellow who is faster than me. I figure if I can get these knees squared away I might just win this year,” Eugene said.

The Maine Senior Games are in their 24th year. They run from Aug. 6 through Sept. 26. Mainers over 50 can qualify to compete, though the age groups go all the way up to 100-plus.

Because the Maine Senior Games are part of the National Senior Games Association, participants are eligible to qualify for the summer National Senior Games, which take place every other year. Events as diverse as shot put and horseshoes are included.

Each year, I see more and more seniors like Eugene in my office. These athletes have not accepted the idea that aging means slowing down. They ski black diamond slopes, compete in triathlons or participate in field sports. Many of them are healthier and more active in their retirement years than ever before.

Over the last few weeks, Eugene received his injections. I asked him if he was training for the upcoming races.

“I run a little in the week before the event,” he said. “If I do more, I just get weaker.”

This year, Eugene finally felt ready to win.

He returned to the office last week for a follow-up.

“How did it go?” I asked.

Eugene shook his head.

“This year there were more athletes than ever because a team of Canadians came down to compete.

“The knees held up well and I didn’t slow down in the end of the race, but I weaved a little in the beginning and that took something off my time. I ended up second.”

Eugene shook his head at the thought. Then his face brightened.

“Maybe I’ll live long enough to try again next year, Doc,” he said.

I will be rooting for Eugene at next year’s games. To all the other Maine seniors out there still competing, good luck.

For more information, contact Jo Dill, coordinator for the Maine Senior Games, at 396-6519; 1-800-427-7411, ext. 519; or by e-mail at [email protected]

Dr. James Glazer is a sports medicine physician for Coastal Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Freeport. He serves as a consultant for the Portland Pirates and the U.S. ski team.