2024-06-22 10:28 PM

The Senior Olympics: Not Your Average Athletics Competition

In 1982, an athletic event for adults over the age of 50 to participate in was created with only 80 competitors. Forty years later, the number of competitors has grown 10 times larger with about 800 participants and more than 70 events.

The Northern Virginia Senior Olympics (NVSO) celebrated its 40th anniversary by hosting hundreds of participants at 25 different venues throughout Northern Virginia. What started out as a small athletic event based in Fairfax County has grown to include nine jurisdictions in the Northern Virginia area, including the City of Falls Church, Arlington, Loudon and more.

Northern Virginia Senior Olympic athletes participate in a pickleball match. (Photo Courtesy: Tom Simpson and by Henry Winokur)

This year, the NVSO started on September 10th and ended two weeks later on the 24th, offering participants a chance to become active with both newer and older athletic events, as well as working together and socializing.

In order for one to participate in the NVSO, they must turn 50 no later than December 31st of the previous year. Most events are played by gender in five and ten year age groups. Ages and experience of participants can range from first-time athletes to seasoned professionals. According to a recent article by InsideNova, one athlete, Vera Punke of Arlington, is 107 years old and shows no sign of stopping her participation in the events.

Herb Levitan is the current chairman of the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics, as well as a participant in the event. Levitan became involved with NVSO 20 years ago after his wife found an article about it and suggested that he try it out. He said being a part of the Senior Olympics is “contagious” and what started out for him as a “modest” try at the event became something he annually participates in.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Levitan said. “It encourages me in particular to train throughout the year and thereby stay healthy and engaged.”

Over the years, the Senior Olympics have had various activities participants can compete in. Whether it be track, cycling, swimming, bowling, tennis, scrabble or more, athletes can sign up for any event they deem fit for their abilities. This year, NVSO introduced a new event focused on weight lifting. Back squats, shoulder presses and deadlifts were three of the activities offered in this new event that athletes could compete in.

Northern Virginia Senior OlympicS offers activies like scrabble that aren’t physically strenuous. (Photo Courtesy: Tom Urman)

This year, the City of Falls Church had 70 individuals participate in the NVSO, with two Falls Church participants breaking records in freestyle swimming and diving.

Jonathan S. Ruskin is a Falls Church resident who has been a competitor in the Senior Olympics for several years. Ruskin was inspired to take part in the NVSO after retiring from the Federal Government in 2015, wanting to focus “heavily on maintaining both my physical and mental fitness.” He said his longtime personal trainer made him aware of the NVSO.

Ruskin said his favorite event that the NVSO has to offer is Scrabble, which he won a silver medal in this year. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded after each event.

The “main impact” the NVSO has had on Ruskin was the “intense training” he went through to prepare for the basketball shooting competition. He said he spent “hours every day, both indoors and outdoors, daytime and at night, taking hundreds of shots, breaking only to have a drink of water.” However, Ruskin stated he enjoys participating in the events as it presents a “rare opportunity” to test his fitness against his peers.

As for the impact of NVSO on the local senior citizen community, Levitan said the event is a “friendly way” of encouraging seniors to stay healthy. The event allows opportunities for those who are more or less mobile to “stay engaged with their fellow senior citizens.” “Mild” activities are offered for those unable to participate in more athletic events, such as competitions in board games, jigsaw puzzles, dominoes and more.

For former participants in the NVSO, being a part of the event had an impact on both their physical and mental health. Falls Church resident Tom Gittins said taking part in the event kept him “sane” when he first took part in it. He was inspired to get involved with the NVSO due to his love of swimming throughout his youth and adulthood. Not surprisingly, he said his favorite event was the “100 [meter] backstroke.”

Along with the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics, Gittins has also participated in the National Senior Games, which allows senior citizens around the country to take part in athletic events and competitions. Although he hasn’t participated in the NVSO for a while, he said the health aspect of the event is beneficial for local senior citizens.

Katie Murphy is a first time participant of the NVSO. She first learned about the event while playing pickleball at the Thomas Jefferson Community & Fitness Center in Arlington. Her love of the sport is what got her involved in the NVSO, and said it impacted her life because she was able to meet people that she now plays pickleball with.

As a Falls Church resident, Murphy recommends other local senior citizens become involved with the NVSO because “it’s a solid competition without being too intense.” She also gave a shout out to the volunteers who helped with the event, who were “really nice people.” Although at times she got “nervous” when it came to competing against others, she said it was “kind of fun” to put herself “in a harder situation where it doesn’t really matter.”

“It’s good to continue to challenge yourself,” Murphy said. “We’re always asking children to challenge themselves, but for seniors, there’s room for growth, fun and achieving higher excellence in your life.”





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