Athletes of all ages score gold
Dave Weicking and his buddies used to go to Grateful Dead concerts together when they were in their 20s. Now, four decades later, they play serious games of shuffleboard.
“I don’t know if it’s cutthroat, but it’s definitely competitive,” said Weicking, 67, a retired U.S. patent examiner in Olney.
In September, Weicking and his friends will participate in the Maryland Senior Olympics, where they’ve brought home gold in years past.
“I’m not someone who would normally win an athletic medal, but I’ve got a wall of gold medals,” Weicking said.
It’s gold-medal season in Maryland and Virginia for thousands of adults over 50 who compete in track and field, pickleball and dozens of other events. The Maryland Senior Olympics got underway in July and last through October, while the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics will kick off in September. (The D.C. Senior Games take place every May.)
For the next three months, dozens of events will take place at various locations throughout Maryland and Northern Virginia. About 1,000 people usually participate in the Virginia games, while the Maryland Senior Olympics typically attract between 1,500 and 3,000 participants.
Friendly competition for all
Don’t be intimidated by the word “Olympic,” said Stacy Sigler, president of the Maryland Senior Olympics and a recreation supervisor for Senior Programs at Montgomery County.
“We don’t want to scare anyone away. We want everyone to come out and have fun,” Sigler said.
By all accounts, the games are great fun, thanks to enthusiastic spectators and even other competitors, who are “rooting everyone on,” Sigler said. “We have kids and grandkids come out with their signs, rooting for Grandma. It’s amazing to see these role models. We should all want to be like them at that age.”
The nonprofit Maryland Senior Olympics was established in 1980 by Dr. Robert G. Zeigler, a Towson University professor of physical education. For his pioneering program, Zeigler received a Lifetime Achievement Award during the 2015 National Senior Games.
Sigler said she’s seen the difference the Maryland Senior Olympics makes in people’s lives. “It encourages them year-round to stay healthy, to stay in shape and to compete every year,” she said.
One of those longtime participants (in softball, basketball, tennis, and bowling) is Carmen Campbell, 82. She first began competing in the games in 1995 and is now president of the board of the Maryland Senior Olympics.
“I’ve been athletic all my life, so I like to participate in as many things as possible,” said Campbell, who has signed up for shotput, softball and other events this fall.
Campbell will also be volunteering to help run the events, located at parks and rec centers throughout Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County and Montgomery County.
“It’s something to do, and I’ll get to see some friends I haven’t seen in ages,” Campbell said.
Northern Virginia give their all
All ages and abilities are welcome to the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics, said Michael McLaughlin, acting chairman.
“We actually had a couple of people who are over 100 years old who have played in these games, which is just amazing,” McLaughlin said.
“To be engaged and healthy and involved at that age is fantastic. To want to play in these games and compete and interact is even better.”
Established in 1982, the nonprofit Northern Virginia Senior Olympics were cancelled last year due to the pandemic. Marathon runner J. Jacob Wind, 71, said he missed them.
“I’m really psyched about the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics coming back to life after two years,” said Wind, who runs every day and plans to compete in several races this September.
“I’m always out there giving it my all. My all is a whole lot less than it used to be. These days my ‘all’ is a ‘some,’” he said with a chuckle.
Nonetheless, Wind plans to run the Boston Marathon in October — for the 34th time — as well as the Marine Corps Marathon in November for the 40th time.
“When I was 30, I won a marathon, and when I was 63, I won a marathon,” Wind said. “I may be the only person who won two marathons 33 years apart.”
A jogger will carry a torch into the opening ceremony — “a reasonable facsimile of the Olympic torch,” as McLaughlin put it — to kick off the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics on Sept. 13.
After the opening ceremony, the track and field events will begin. Those events tend to be the most popular, followed closely by pickleball, which has “a tremendous following,” according to McLaughlin.
But some competitions, such as Sudoku, don’t require much movement at all. This year organizers added crossword puzzles, bringing the number of different events to 50.
“Our counties have a lot of seniors, and that community is getting bigger and bigger. So, activities like this become important. We have to have more and more things for seniors to be engaged in,” McLaughlin said.
Qualifying for the national games
Although the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics are just for local residents, the Maryland Senior Games is open to non-state residents, too.
And, after winning a medal in Maryland, athletes are eligible to participate in the National Senior Games that take place every two years and attract up to 15,000 participants.
The next national games are scheduled for May 10 through 23, 2022, in Ft. Lauderdale. (The Northern Virginia Senior Olympics isn’t a member of the National Senior Games Association, so its winners don’t participate.)
This year’s Maryland Senior Olympics will include 54 different events, including archery, billiards, bocce, golf, softball, cycling and swimming races.
Weicking and his fellow shuffleboard sharks will be there in September.
“I’m looking forward to getting back” to the games, said Weicking’s friend Al Koehler, a retired CFO who lives in Ashton, Maryland. Koehler, 66, has participated in the Maryland games twice before and was bowled over by his success.
On a whim he signed up for six events, including the 200-meter dash. “I swept them all. I got gold in everything,” Koehler marveled.
Not only were the medals an unexpected windfall, Koehler said, but the camaraderie made the day even more memorable than a Dead show. “It was a fun atmosphere. Everybody cheered for everybody else.”
The Maryland Senior Olympics are open to anyone over 50, both in-state and out-of-state residents. It costs $30 to register and an additional $5 per event.
The registration deadline is two weeks prior to each event, which run through October. To see a schedule and to register, visit mdseniorolympics.org, email email@example.com or call (240) 777-4930.
The 2021 Northern Virginia Senior Olympics will take place Sept. 18 through 29. Participants must be 50 years of age by December 31, 2021 and live in Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun or Prince William counties. A registration fee of $15 covers multiple events. Register before Sept. 6 at nvso.us, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (703) 508-0331.