The 25th anniversary of the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics brings one very significant change for the annual competition, one that draws hundreds of participants from around the region. After years of holding track and field events at outdoor locations like Falls Church High School, the Olympians will instead compete inside Arlington’s Thomas Jefferson Community Center this year.
"Quite frankly, we just got tired of having to worry about the weather — was it going to rain, was it going to be too hot for the folks or too humid?" said Judy Massabny of Arlington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, who helps organize and publicize the Olympics. She added that the opening ceremonies will also be held in the Rec Center on Saturday, Sept. 15, with events beginning at 9 a.m.
"We’re really looking forward to it," said Massabny.
The NOVA Senior Olympics are sponsored by the Northern Virginia Senior Olympic Committee and co-sponsored by the Northern Virginia Recreation and Parks Departments. Massabny said eight jurisdictions sponsor the Senior Olympics: The cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax, and the counties of Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William and Loudoun. Senior living providers and retirement communities like Goodwin House, Inc., Sunrise Senior Living, Greenspring and Humana are among the event’s patrons.
The program, which runs from Saturday, Sept. 15 through Thursday, Sept. 27, is open to all senior residents ages 50 and older. Competitions range from running and swimming events to backgammon and eight-ball billiards tournaments. Medals are awarded to the top three athletes in each event on the day of the event.
Massabny said there are a number of reasons why the NOVA Senior Olympics are vital to the community.
"First and foremost, because it’s fun. But it’s also a way for us to promote healthy aging and fellowship [between athletes]. They’re role models for younger folks."
THOSE ROLE MODELS come from all over the region to battle in these friendly competitions. Cheryl Wheeler of Loudoun County Dept of Parks and Rec said that two of her local senior athletes — both recent immigrants from China — had been playing table tennis against other Asian-American athletes in Reston when they found out their rivals were going to be a part of the Senior Olympics. Despite living a good distance (and a long car ride) away from most of the action, Wheeler said they signed up for the Games.
There is a $10 registration fee for the Senior Olympics, with a fee of $1 for each additional event; registration information and a schedule of events can be found at www.novaseniorolympics.com.
There is onsite registration for all events except for 3x3 Basketball, Eight Ball Pool, Golf, Horsehoes, Line Dance, Pickle-Ball, Shuffleboard, Table Tennis, Tennis, Bunco and Track & Field.
"We don’t pick up a lot of walk-ups, but we do pick up a few at every site," said Brian Johnson of the Fairfax County Park Authority.
Johnson is one of dozens of behind-the-scenes professionals who wear multiple hats in operating the annual event. This year, he’s in charge of transporting much of the equipment and facilitating the track events for a group of athletes that ranges between 500-to-600 participants.
"The competition between these elderly adults is just awesome," he said.
Massabny agreed, saying that she hoped those who choose not to participate — as well as the friends and relatives of the athletes — come to the events for important morale support.
"These folks are so inspiring," she said, "and I love it when the children are in the bleachers going, ‘Go Grandma!’"