Games are golden for Olympian's grandmom from Plum
August 2, 2012 9:00 AM
At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Margaret "Peggy" Menges, center, poses for a celebratory photo with her grandson, Merrick Zagunis, left, and her granddaughter, Mariel Zagunis.
By Pamela E. Walck
Margaret "Peggy" Menges of Plum is a matriarch of Olympians.
Her daughter was among the first women to represent the United States in rowing during the Montreal Olympics in 1976.
And in London this week, her granddaughter, Mariel Zagunis of Beaverton, Ore., made it to the semifinals in saber fencing. Miss Zagunis had won gold medals in the sport in the 2008 and 2004 Olympics.
At age 86, Mrs. Menges is no slouch in the world of athletics herself.
She was 60 when she took part in her first competitive swimming event and she still actively competes, most recently in the YMCA Masters Nationals, where her team took third place in April.
In addition to being the mother and grandmother of Olympic athletes and a competitor herself, she is an advocate for the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle, regardless of age.
On Wednesday, she sat alongside her daughter, Catherine Menges-Zagunis, in London to cheer on their family's second-generation Olympian.
For this proud grandmother, the 2012 Olympics represent another chance to celebrate how far women have come in competitive sports.
"When I was young, we did not do this kind of competing. I swam in little races at camp, but there were not swim teams for the girls," she said. "All we had was basketball."
At Longwood at Oakmont, the retirement community in Plum where Mrs. Menges lives, she is constantly encouraging her peers to get into the water, noting her firsthand experience of how aquatic exercise has helped her arthritic joints.
"I am very healthy, maybe it's the genes," she said with a laugh. "But I attribute a lot to being very active."
Jason Klein, the wellness coordinator at Longwood, agreed.
"She still travels the world. She took a vacation with her family that included bike riding just a few years ago," Mr. Klein said. " ... She still lives independently and does what she wants. And a lot of that is because she is active and has the stamina and strength to do all those things."
Mrs. Menges said when her children were young, the family went camping, hiking, swimming.
"I encouraged them to be active in something," Mrs. Menges said. "My children enjoyed playing outside and had limited television. They didn't like it when it rained and they had to be inside."
Her granddaughter was raised much the same way, she said.
Miss Zagunis initially showed a lot of promise in soccer, but then her older brother took up fencing, and she tried it, too, her grandmother said.
Mrs. Menges wasn't able to go to Athens in 2004 to see her granddaughter win her first Olympic gold because her late husband was ill at that time.
But four years later, she and other family members were in Beijing to cheer Miss Zagunis on to her second gold medal.
Just about everyone at Longwood at Oakmont knew Mrs. Menges' granddaughter was competing in this year's Olympics.
"They have her picture up on the bulletin board and the schedule," she said before the Olympics began. "When she was in Athens, it was like she had 100 grandmothers worrying about her."
Mr. Klein said residents across the complex planned to hold viewing parties.
"They are all excited," he said last week. "There are different groups of resident who are watching the opening ceremonies, and I think they are just as excited as [Mrs. Menges] is. That's no joke."
Miss Zagunis has visited her grandmother at the retirement community and is always willing to spend time meeting with other residents there.
For some of the newer residents, their brush with an Olympian has been a bit of a surprise.
"I think it's something new to them, the fact that they know someone who is in the Olympics," Mr. Klein said.
Mrs. Menges is just thrilled that she can see her granddaughter compete in a sport she loves.
Miss Zagunis was selected to carry the American flag during Friday's opening ceremony in London, and while she was proudly doing that, her grandmother was digging for fossils along England's southern coast.
Mrs. Menges had read an article in the Smithsonian magazine at the beginning of this year about the best places to find fossils and it included a feature on what has become known as the "Jurassic Coast" of England.
"I thought, 'Oh, that sounds interesting,' " Mrs. Menges said. "And since I had the time, I decided to do that."