In a society focused on ways to look and feel younger, Northern Virginia seniors are proving age should not be considered a deterrent to staying active.
Seniors — 50 and older — will have the chance to prove "old age" stereotypes wrong again at the upcoming Northern Virginia Senior Olympics, scheduled to run Sept. 17 through Sept. 29.
"So often younger folks think once you turn 50 or 60 it's time for a wheel chair," said Judy Massabny, spokeswoman for the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics. "These folks are out here doing this, showing they can do it."
Created 23 years ago, the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics (NVSO) focus on providing senior adults an opportunity for competition through various athletic, recreational and social events.
This year, the 25 featured events range from track and field and swimming, to three-on-three basketball, bowling, backgammon and table tennis. Seniors wanting to show off mental sharpness can compete in chess, bridge, cribbage and other non-physical events throughout the almost two-week event.
"The Senior Olympics offer a number of activities that people can participate in at any level," said Betsy Bailey, 2005 NVSO chairman. "They don't have to be super athletic, we encourage people to come out and try — you may find out you're doing well."
LAST YEAR MORE THAN 500 seniors signed up to participate in the various events. This year a little more than 100 have registered, but Bailey said she expects a number of forms will be in by the Sept. 2 deadline.
For seniors who miss the registration deadline, there are a number of walk-up events where participants can register on the spot, said Bailey. Events where pre-registration is required include three-on-three basketball, track and field, eight ball pool, golf, horseshoes, line dance, pickle-ball, shuffleboard, table tennis and tennis. All other events offer on the spot registration.
"The neatest thing about the Senior Olympics," said Bailey, "is when people get excited because they're winning medals."
One man won a medal in an event and said when he brought it home, his wife viewed him in a different light, said Bailey. That man now competes in national competitions because of his start with the Senior Olympics, she said.
"This is a for-fun tournament," said Dan Moon, Fairfax County NVSO committee member. "This was originally organized for that, to try and reach those people that may not want to enter the more competitive tournaments."
Moon, an employee at Grovetown Senior Center, is a Fairfax County Department of Community and Recreation Services representative on the NVSO planning committee.
Each year representatives from the participating jurisdictions meet to schedule the upcoming competition, said Moon.
Jurisdictions include Fairfax County, Arlington County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church.
"This is a unique activity where all these jurisdictions come together to do this," said Cheryl Wheeler, Loudoun County Area Agency on Aging representative. "There's nothing else really like it in the state."
Seniors who live in the participating areas are eligible to sign up for events, said Massabny, also an Arlington County representative. For those who are unsure about competing this year, Massabny encouraged the potential future Olympians to attend a few days of events and sign up next year.
"Once people come out, and once they compete in something," she said, "they want to do it again because it's so much fun."
AS A FOR-FUN TOURNAMENT, NVSO representatives have seen an increase in participants over the years, but a decline in the number of volunteers, said Bailey, who has been chairman off and on since 1997.
One reason there is a decline is because many of the Baby Boomer generation are more active and do not have the time to volunteer, she said. Another is because many "older" citizens are still working and do not have free time.
"People do not have to be seniors to volunteer," she said. "We encourage high schoolers to help during the track and field events."
Because this year's volunteer staff is small and there are many events happening each day, the committee has tried to schedule most events out of the Lee District Park and RECenter in Franconia, said Bailey.
Because of this, the Loudoun County Area Agency on Aging will be offering a shuttle bus service to the opening day festivities and to the billiards competition, said Wheeler.
Opening day is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 17 at Falls Church High School starting at 9:30 a.m. A senior will run down the track with a small torch to light the large Olympic torch to signify the start of the competition. Track-and-field events — one of the most popular competitions — will follow the opening ceremony at 10 a.m.
"When I first started serving with the Senior Olympics I was so impressed by the track-and-field events," said Bailey. "Yes you do have 50-year olds competing, but you also have 80-year olds that are out there running. This year we even have one lady who is 90 signed up for swimming."
The largest number of seniors signed up to compete generally falls within the 75- to 85-year-old age group, she said. And although they recently dropped the minimum age to 50-years old, most participants are 60 or older. There is no maximum age to compete and last year a man over 100 years old played in the bridge competition, said Bailey.
"I encourage people to come to even just watch or to try it," said Bailey about the free admission events. "It's just a very enjoyable activity and people can be inspired by it too."