Since entering his first race a year later, Platts has become one of the top senior athletes in the area and recently set a new world record in the javelin throw—at the tender age of 80.
Platts threw his javelin 125 feet, 5 inches at Hayward Stadium at the University of Oregon in Eugene. At the same meet, he recorded a stadium-record long jump (11 feet, 10 inches) and ran the 100 yard dash in 15.8 seconds.
At an age when conventional stereotypes would have him using a walker, Platts is beating the socks off of men half his age—all because he believes what really matters is attitude.
"When you're in your 80s, people think you should be in a wheelchair," Platts said from his Boise home. "If you stay in track and field, you're going to run till you die."
Platts is far from the only athlete who finds him or herself dumped in the "senior" category but not anywhere near being "old." Maybe it would be more apt to call these people "experienced" athletes.
A group of like-minded experienced athletes will come together starting Friday, Aug. 15, for the annual Idaho Senior Games, a multi-day sporting celebration featuring more than 20 events at locations across the Treasure Valley.
Now in its 19th year, the games draw hundreds of athletes aged 50 and older from around the region to compete not only for the chance to qualify for the national and world games, but for the pure fun of it.
"There is no age limit for being active," said Senior Games coordinator Jack Ward. "If you really enjoy what you're doing, then you should continue doing it.
"[There are] people in their 80s that are still competing," he said. "They have an incredible amount of passion and they enjoy doing it. They're not competing with other people, they're competing with themselves. It keeps them young and keeps them going."
While he's a pro now, Platts said he was intimidated the first time he signed up for a race.
"I went down there and registered and it looked like they were running so fast, I got scared and went home," he said. But Platts was back the next year and was one of the top finishers.
While running came naturally and the long jump was something he had done back in his grade-school days, the javelin took a little more work. He first considered it while watching the competition after pulling a muscle at the Wyoming Senior Games.
"I looked over at the javelin and they were kind of hippy-hopping, and I thought I could do that with bad legs," he said.
Platts bought a javelin and tried his hand at it, finishing dead last at his first meet. But a lot of fine tuning later, and he's the new world record holder.
The games are designed for a wide variety of interests and skills, and Ward stresses that no one has to be an elite athlete to participate. Events range from traditional competitions like track and field, swimming, cycling, softball, tennis, basketball and volleyball, to those you'll probably never see in the Olympics, including golf, pool, shuffleboard and something called pickleball, which looks like life-sized ping pong played on a tennis court.
Participants are divided in age groupings of five years, with the majority falling in the 60 to 75 range.
"People 50 to 60 don't consider themselves seniors," Ward said.
One of the continuing challenges of the games is to increase participation. While there were just less than 400 athletes at the state games last year, that's a fraction of eligible participants in the Treasure Valley.
Ward said the Boise Senior Center estimates that roughly 55,000 people age 50 and older live in the valley. "We should be able to get more than 300 to 400 participating," he said.
Senior games are held across the country, and athletes from anywhere are welcome to join in any of the state or regional games, but they must compete at a state game to be eligible for the national games, which were held in Spokane, Wash., last week. The World Senior Games will be in St. George, Utah, in October.
The mission of all the games is to get people out and active at all ages, regardless of their ability. While some, like Platts, can compete at a higher level, those who aren't able to can join organized walks or other events.
The Downtown YMCA took over coordinating the state games two years ago, and Ward said they draw on the expertise of others to organize and host events. Those who head-up specific sports often have long and storied histories within the sports and have a passion they want to share.
"They just enjoy being active and nothing's going to slow them down," he said.
Ward got involved as a volunteer long before he began working at the YMCA. As a track coach, he saw another opportunity to share his love of the sport.
"When I see other people wanting to get involved—regardless of the age group—if I can help out, I want to," he said.
Platts travels all over the country competing in senior events. "You get hooked on it," he said.
Platts often finds himself competing against former professional athletes and Olympic medal winners. "They're still out there running and throwing and going," he said.
Oftentimes, athletes outnumber the spectators at senior events, something Ward and others would like to see change. Beyond just supporting the community, audience members might leave with some important life lessons.
"They'll be really surprised when they see these people out there participating," Ward said. "Even though they have the name 'senior' in it, if they talk to these people and watch them, it would take away the [age] stigma.
"We hear a number and think people of that age should act a certain way. We stereotype them. These people do not act that way. They don't even look that age," he said.
"If they were to go out and see this stuff, it would give them hope. There's life after retirement," Ward said.
While Platts retired from his day job studying river ecosystems with the Idaho Fish and Game Department and the U.S. Forest Service years ago, he still does private consulting. It's all part of the same drive that keeps him going, on the track and off.
"If you ever sit down, it's all over," he said.
Events run Aug. 15-17, and Aug. 21-24. Registration will be taken on the day of the event, depending on the sport. The cost is $30 for one sport of $35 for two or more. Spectator admission is free to all events. Times and locations for each event, as well as additional information, can be found online at idahoseniorgames.org. Anyone with questions can call Ward at 208-344-5502 ext. 317.