At 73, longtime Castro Valley resident Dale Harder is redefining "retired."
The former Bay Area teacher, who just released his latest book on muscle men and a new board game, is now raising the fitness bar for area senior citizens.
A lifelong athlete and expert on strength sports, Harder is hosting a new segment of the 2011 Bay Area Senior Games, called Feats of Strength, on March 28 in his Castro Valley backyard, which he's dubbed "Harder Arena."
Sidelined in his youth by a heart defect
A congenital heart defect kept Harder on the sidelines during sports and gym classes during his youth in Oakland.
"To counter that, I exercised a lot, doing pull-ups and push-ups until I had built myself up, so that by 12th grade my doctor gave me permission to take P.E.," Harder said.
Heart surgery at 21, coupled with the fitness regimen, put Harder on a new life path.
"I was so elated at being 'normal' again that I decided to make sure I kept myself in good physical shape and made up for lost time," Harder said.
Monday's meet scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
His Feats of Strength meet on Monday, March 28, is open to men and women 50 years old and up. It will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"We hope that this year's participants will enjoy it enough that word of mouth will help it to become an annual event," Harder said.
The Bay Area Senior Games, primarily held at Stanford University in Palo Alto, attract hundreds of participants, who compete in such categories as basketball, water polo, horseshoes and shuffleboard. This year's games run March 26 to April 3.
Attracting athletes via YouTube
Harder anticipates a dozen or more entrants for his Feats of Strength meet, which he is running with friend and fellow fitness fan Bill Weinstock, 64, of Sierra Madre.
"This is the first of its kind," Weinstock said of the contest. "We're encouraging people of all abilities to come. It's a fun type of event."
The meet includes pull-up and chin-up competitions, standing long jumps, farmer's-walk races and hand-grip strength contests.
Harder and Weinstock filmed and posted on YouTube a handful of videos demonstrating the planned contests.
Anyone can do them, but can they do them well?
"We wanted to add some great events that are not usually contested in senior events," Harder said. "Together we came up with these five."
"We've combined events so anyone can do them," Weinstock said. But, he added, "To do them well is difficult."
Some fitness champs will be in attendance, including Ray Oster of Nevada, who holds multiple Scottish Highland games titles, and Caren Fishback, the female record-holder of Dynamometer-measured grip strength, Harder said.
Harder swept 2002 Masters World Championships
Count Harder in that champs group, as well, as he holds several athletic records and wins, including the crown for sweeping the 2002 Masters World Championships for his age group in the Scottish Highland Games.
It's not just his body that gets a workout. Harder, who has taught kindergarten through high school, loves a mental challenge, as well.
He has written more than 60 books, mostly math and reading guides, and is the inventor of five games, including Frac Jack, which debuted in the 1970s and sold more than 10,000 copies.
Putting a spin on mental challenges, too
Frac Jack borrowed from blackjack and poker to put an enjoyable spin on teaching fractions, he said.
Harder and his wife, Karel, have lived for nearly 40 years in the same Castro Valley home where they raised their three children, Ken, Greg and Wendy.
"My philosophy is to enjoy life as much as possible," Harder said. "And that means striving to keep the body in good physical shape, the mind sharp by creating new games, and learning as much as possible about things that interest me."
Guides to strongman record holders
Harder praises his wife's patience over the years as, at times, his various books and games filled their house.
Harder has published his latest in a series of encyclopedia-type guides to the world's strongman record holders.
"Dale is considered a leading authority on strength sports," Weinstock said.
Did he really one-up Scrabble with Smarty?
A word-game aficionado, Harder said he found Scrabble limiting with its constrictive board space and vowel-to-consonant combinations.
Six dice and a timer, and a prize for the longest word
Smarty comes with six dice — four are all consonants and two are all vowels — and is designed for an unlimited number of players of all ages.
With a timer set for three minutes, players roll the dice, then compete with pen and paper to create the longest words possible using at least four of the rolled letters.
Smarty's twist is that players can add any other letters in the alphabet to create endless combinations of words.
Players with the longest words win.
Weinstock gave Smarty a whirl and a thumbs up, but jokingly noted competing against the game's creator isn't easy.
"Dale, boy, he came up with these big words — a 17-letter word," Weinstock said.
Smarty can also be varied for specific play categories, such as geography or history, Harder said.
How to buy his newest game and book
The game is $12, plus shipping and handling charges, and is available through Harder's website, www.mindbogglers.org.
Harder sells his book for $30, plus shipping and handling, through www.strengthospeedia.org.
The Internet and social media are being tapped by Harder and Weinstock to promote their Feats of Strength meet.