Seniors Go for Gold

Seniors Go for Gold

Arlington seniors stay in shape preparing for Northern Virginia Senior Olympics.

Dennis Sheffield, a native of England native and a World War II veteran, has always been athletic.

"Ever since I was growing up I was kicking a stone or brick," he said. "I grew up with soccer and cricket."

Since he’s gotten older, though, Sheffield has been exercising his athleticism in a relatively new sport: pickle-ball, a hybrid of badminton and table tennis. Sheffield, a bronze medalist in the 80+ age group last year, and other seniors from around the region, will bring their pickle-ball prowess to Arlington next month, as the county plays host to some events in the 20th annual Northern Virginia Senior Olympics from Sept. 14-26.

The Northern Virginia Senior Olympics are part of a nationwide effort to keep seniors active and healthy. The National Senior Games are held every two years and rotate around the country. Next year, the national games come to Virginia for the first time, to be held in Hampton roads.

While the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics are not officially a part of the Virginia State Games, many of the seniors who participate in Northern Virginia also register to play at the state level, where they can then qualify to compete in the National Games.

"It's really amazing to see the participants that come out," said James Stutts, executive director of the Virginia Recreation and Park Society. "We get some fierce athletes and some just for fun. It's really inspiring to see the seniors coming out and staying healthy."

There are many localized competitions throughout the state, Stutts said, including games in Richmond, New River, Dansville, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth and Northern Virginia.

The Northern Virginia Senior Olympics will be holding its games in 12 different locations in Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William. Competitors must also live in one of those seven districts, said Del Wilson, a member of the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics Committee.

The Northern Virginia Senior Olympics committee is "trying to get the word out as much a possible," said Co-Chair Betsy Bailey.

Over 600 senior citizens are expected to participate in the region's games. Events in track and field will be held at Falls Church High School on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 9:30 a.m.

For more information, call 703-228-4403.

<b>PICKLE-BALL IS</b> one of the events to be held in Arlington. The game is played on a court identical to a doubles badminton court, but with the three-foot high net lowered to the ground.

"It's a bit of tennis and a bit of table tennis," Sheffield said, adding that the game was invented in Seattle, named by its inventor after his dog, Pickle.

Like volleyball, a player can only win a point while he's serving. Singles and doubles both play to 11 points each game, and the winner is determined from the best two out of three.

Sheffield started playing pickle-ball about 10 years ago when he was a part of the Health Education Program for Seniors at George Mason University. Since then he has played yearly at the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics and other venues offered by state and county park and recreation services.

Sheffield and his wife, Betty, are also competitive table tennis and tennis players, medaling in both events at past Northern Virginia Senior Olympics and the Virginia Senior Games.

The couple said athleticism and energy have no age limit. They plan to compete together in mixed doubles in the fall, and claim to make a great team. The Sheffields even appeared as extras in the movie "Contact" with Jodi Foster.

<b>BUT TENNIS</b> and pickle-ball are not the only sports to be drawing the attention of athletic seniors this year.

Line dancing, a part of the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics for the last five years, will be coordinated by Pinky O'Neil.

O’Neill knows her line dancing, acting as a senior instructor at Arlington's Thomas Jefferson Community Center. Last year, a team of dancers from the county won second place.

The line dance competition, O'Neil said, is kind of a social event where competitors learn some new dances together, compete and then join in a big lunch as awards are presented. "It's really a lot of fun," O'Neil said.

Teams are made up of five to eight people, and they can either perform original routines or previously choreographed ones.

The dancers at Thomas Jefferson Community Center are mostly women, and they are serious about their sport. Aldine Pannett, one of last year's silver medalists, recently had foot surgery and is currently unable to dance.

"It doesn't hurt anymore," Pannett said, "I just can't walk on it." She hopes to be back up to speed for the Sept. 18 competition at Sully Senior Center in Centerville.