Jackie Bong Wright

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Senior Olympics

By Jackie Bong-Wright

Gold Medalist

Zong Gu Chen, a frail but strong 70-year-old Chinese man, exhibits his medal proudly around his neck and smiles broadly.  He won the gold in the 400-meter track event, competing with 12 others, all Americans, in his age group.  He then took part in a 2003 Medal Ceremony  at the Falls Church Community Center on September 28 to honor the winners.  Fortunately, it was just a couple of days before hurricane Isabelle swirled in, devastating many parts of  the Washington Metropolitan Area.

Mr. Chen had come for the first time to the U.S. from Guangzhou, China, just four months earlier, to visit his daughter Zhiying, 30.  She has worked at a software company in Mclean for the past six years, after graduating with a Master degree in Computer Sciences.

Chen, a professor of physics at the University of Guangzhou, understands  English perfectly.  He said that, for health reasons, he has been jogging every morning for the past three years both in his hometown, and since he came to the U.S.  One day, he read an article about the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics in the Virginia Sunday Gazette, and signed up.  He was among the 150 people who came with their families to the awards ceremony to enjoy the fruits of their athletic practice.

Ten Days of Competition and Fun for Athletes of 50 and Older

For a nominal $7.50 registration fee for the first event and $1.00 for each  additional event, participants 50 years and older, including those with disabilities, were encouraged to compete in 25 categories.  These included archery, bait casting, basketball, bridge, canasta, chess, golf, horseshoes, line dancing, shuffleboard, swimming, table tennis, bowling, track, and yo-yo.

Athletes could enter as many events as they liked in the five-year, ten-year or no-age group.  They got scholarships if in need of financial assistance.  They could also compete, in teams of two or more, from September 13 to 25 at different high schools, as well as recreation and community centers.  These activities were sponsored mostly by Departments of Parks and Recreation and Agency on Aging in Northern Virginia.  They had to sign a legal release form before taking part in the Olympics.

Harold Novinger, 91, and Mary Lathram, 87, were the shining stars of this year’s Olympics.  Novinger won the gold in both the 1,500 and 800-meter walk in his age group, and said that after this he wanted to retire.  Lathram won ten gold medals for the eleven categories she competed in including the walk, shot put, long-jump, softball hit and throw.  For her half-mile free style swimming, she attained only the silver.  She said she has been keeping up with her athletic training for the past twenty years.  Both of these Olympians live in the retirement home of Goodwin House West at Baileys Crossroads in Fairfax County.

 Philosophy of the Senior Olympics

The  Northern Virginia Senior Olympics (NVSO) started in 1982 to provide senior citizens an opportunity for competition and  fellowship through athletic, recreational and social events.  In 1988, the minimum age for participants was changed from 55 to 50 to coincide with that used by the Trigon Virginia Senior Games and the National Senior Games.

The NVSO program promotes health, fitness and the psychological well-being for senior adults by offering participation, self-improvement and achievement.  NVSO has had the financial support of many local businesses, organizations and individuals.  It offers a Gold medal for contributions of $1,000 and over, a Silver medal for donations over $500, and a Bronze medal.  It also encourages volunteers to assist in the planning and organization of this indoor and outdoor event.

At the Medal Ceremony, Del Wilson, NVSO chairman, gave the opening remarks before Dick Stohr demonstrated his prowess with the Yo-Yo.  Pinky O’Neil introduced Olga Jevtich, Ms. Virginia Senior America 2003, and put on a delightful show performed by winning seniors with line dancing and songs.  Judy Massabny, Publicity officer, and Dan Moon, Procurement Chair, were among the 28 NVSO Committee members who  worked hard to make this event a great success.