After more than five years of planning, it's crunch time for organizers of the 2009 Summer National Senior Games.
The event's Encina Way headquarters in Palo Alto -- just a stone's throw from Stanford University's main athletic venues -- was bustling with activity Monday.
A team of tech geeks worked on computers that will serve as the nerve center for the multi-sport event, which officially begins Saturday and is expected to draw upwards of 30,000 people over two weeks. Other volunteers and staff, crammed into the two-story walk-up office, snatched up ringing phones and hovered over laptops.
Colorful banners announcing the Games have been hoisted up all over Palo Alto and on the Stanford campus.
City officials, police, firefighters, medical teams from Stanford University Medical Center and hundreds of others have been coordinating every aspect of the Games, from staffing medical tents to presenting live music.
At the helm of this vast undertaking is Anne Warner Cribbs, the 2009 National Senior Games Local Organizing Committee president and a former gold-medal-winning Olympic swimmer.
Cribbs and her team have been putting in 12-hour days, seven days a week for months to make sure the giant operation goes off without a hitch.
"In the last six months, it's been taking on a life of its own," she said recently at headquarters, as shipments of computers from Hewlett-Packard Co. were trundled up the stairs.
Nearby, nearly a dozen organizers at a conference table discussed conflicts in event scheduling and how to get enough time to properly set up for sports sharing the same venue -- just one of thousands of details organizers have contended with.
It will all be worth it, they say. The Senior Games is the biggest event of its kind in the world, drawing more participants than even the summer or winter Olympics. Some 10,000 athletes ages 50 and older are expected to compete in 18 medaled and six demonstration sports.
The Games are often called the Senior Olympics, and like the namesake, the two-week event launches with a torchbearers' run and the lighting of a cauldron. Saturday evening, a solar-power torch will arrive on Caltrain, be carried throughout the Stanford campus, and then arrive at Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Plaza in front of Palo Alto City Hall for the cauldron-lighting ceremony.
Louis Trujillo, for one, is looking forward to the Games.
"This is the most exciting thing. I've never been out to Northern California. It's a beautiful place," said Trujillo, who is well under 50 and the event manager for Zia Graphics, an Albuquerque, N.M., company supplying Senior Games sportswear, T-shirts, mugs, patches and other memorabilia.
He was on the Stanford campus Tuesday, setting up the Games gift shop.
The carpet in the gift shop tent still smelled new and the walls were lined with metal grids and racks, all driven in from New Mexico in three large trucks, two vans and a trailer packed with merchandise and equipment, he said.
"It's been spectacular. This is the biggest event we've ever taken on," he said.
So far, things have gone smoothly, but Trujillo worried just a bit that perhaps some box of T-shirts important to the whole plan was forgotten back home.
Across the way, Ian Mayne was supervising the site build-out for e2k, a Mountain View event company that is co-producing the Games.
Scores of workers toiled to get more than 45 vendors' tents and medical stations in place. Colorful banners in red, blue, yellow and green proclaiming "Long Live the Challenge" -- the Games' motto -- and "Welcome Athletes" snapped in the wind from flag poles.
Noticeably age-appropriate booths also stood at the ready: AstraZeneca, sponsor of the Athlete Village; Avenidas, a Palo Alto nonprofit for seniors and their families; Administration on Aging; Home Instead Senior Care; and Palo Alto Commons.
Mayne said he and his crew have been challenged by the amount of activity at Stanford this week "at every hour of the day and night."
Try constructing a music stage with heavy equipment quietly while the Bank of the West Women's Tennis Tournament is going on next door, he said.
But he's been working with the other groups, trying to not step on anyone's toes.
"It's a struggle to do that; we've each got our own agendas," he said.
As the village took form, though, the colorful trimming that adorned the white tents brought a satisfied look to Mayne's face. It's coming together, he said.
The department of Stanford Athletics, which is hosting 17 sports, has faced its own quandaries. One of the main tactical areas was how to transition from one sport to another, said Christina Cribbs, senior events and operations manager and daughter of Anne Cribbs.
"We have to set up each facility as each sport goes on. At Maples Pavilion, we need to go from basketball to volleyball to badminton," she said, giving the example of basketball finishing at 10 p.m. one day, and volleyball beginning the next day.
The process is more complicated than putting up nets, she said. A special sport court has to be brought in to create the proper configuration of volleyball courts, she said.
"(In) laying out a competition court, set up takes a crew of 25 people. It will take all night," she said.
Some setups will have to be achieved in just six hours.
"We'll have lots of coffee -- and a very young crew," she said, laughing.
Medical care is also a big part of the Games strategy, what with so many senior athletes, fit as they might be, and potentially high summer temperatures, said Palo Alto Fire Chief Nick Marinaro, a co-chair of the medical committee with Dr. Phil Harter of Stanford Hospital & Clinics.
A team of Stanford physicians, orthopedists, emergency medical technicians, ambulance drivers and fire personnel have been assembled, according to Kimberly Carlisle, director of sponsorship for Stanford Hospital & Clinics for the Games and liaison to the medical team.
Stanford will have five stations for medical assessment and care at the different venues, including in Sunnyvale, San Jose and San Francisco, she said.
Set up as triage centers, each venue will have an orthopedist from Stanford's sports-medicine division on hand to assess and treat athletes' injuries. If necessary, patients will be transported to the emergency room.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 family and friends of athletes are expected, and Menlo Medical Clinic will provide urgent care, she said.
Marinaro said 911 calls related to the Games will be split off from regular emergencies. Medical response teams have been assembled with off-duty paramedics and reserve ambulances to eliminate impacts on regular ambulance response, he said. Fire personnel will also be on hand during the opening ceremonies for the fireworks display.
Police are not anticipating any major problems during the Games, according to Agent Max Nielepko, a Palo Alto Police Department spokesman. But the city's SWAT team is available if needed, he said.
Traffic is not expected to heavily impact Palo Alto, he said. The flow of athletes and guests will be spread out over the 15-day period.
But Hamilton Avenue will be closed in front of City Hall for nine hours on Saturday, Aug. 1, for the opening ceremony at 8:30 p.m. Police will escort the torch runners along their route -- from the University Avenue Caltrain station along El Camino Real to south of the Stanford Stadium, then through campus and arriving at City Hall via University Avenue, Cowper Street and Hamilton. Periodic traffic delays could last five to 10 minutes, police said.
Parking problems are not expected, Nielepko said. Six parking areas will be available on the Stanford campus.
In downtown Palo Alto, new, blue directional signs have been installed by the city on lampposts, pointing visitors to various locales, such as City Hall.
The city has donated more than 50,000 stainless-steel water bottles that will keep plastic out of the landfill and 47 bicycles that will be available as part of a 125-bike fleet at Stanford for visitors to ride around town and campus, said Richard James, coordinator of the event for the City of Palo Alto and the city's former director of community services.
Logistics and intense preparations aside, the point of the Games is athletics, and on that score, Anne Cribbs said she anticipates several records could be made during the Games.
Not only that, but spectators can watch unusual competitors, such as 100-year-old Roger Gentilhomme on the tennis court or former Harlem Globetrotter Anthony Davis shooting hoops in the basketball competition.
Back at the Encina Way headquarters, words of encouragement are stenciled on the wall in the form of the Senior Games' motto, "Long Live the Challenge."
Cribbs pointed out a large inflatable banana in a corner of her office. The banana makes the rounds in the office when someone does a good deed. The 3-foot-long bananas will hang from Games way stations, where 47,000 of the crescent-shaped fruits donated by Del Monte Foods will be distributed to athletes as a replenishing source of potassium.
The company sent 1,000 inflatable bananas -- another, but perhaps less critical, dilemma of the many Cribbs has had to face.
"What do we do with them all?" she asked.