I met J.R. at my final events, the football and softball throw, which I am so glad I signed up for. If I hadn’t I would never have met this inspiring gentleman, who has been competing in Senior Olympics since 1991, 21 years now. He provides perfect proof of the Senior games motto, “you don’t stop playing when you get old…you get old when you stop playing.” And J.R. looks like he never wants to stop playing.
J.R. talked with me between events and I got to hear about his Navy life, his NASA career and his Olympic exploits and why he keeps competing. A veteran of World War II and Korea, J.R. began his Navy career as a Flag Lieutenant for Rear Admiral Lynde McCormick, which took him to the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender. J.R. later went on to captain destroyers in the Pacific before retiring. That’s when he began his work at NASA, joining the race to the moon. J.R. worked in the Apollo program for flights 7 through 13 as a technical training supervisor for engineers in flight tracking. What a remarkable career jump, from watching the stars from his destroyer bridge, to tracking space capsules across those same stars.
J.R. jokes that he was already pretty senior when he started competing in Senior Olympics, and began his medal-winning career. In the 20+ years he’s been competing, J.R. thinks he’s collected about 233 medals, and that’s not counting his haul from this year’s games. But more than medals, he’s set a number of state and local event records and winning streaks. J.R. told me he had never been beaten in the 50 meter backstroke and has won the discus gold for 19 years.
He has slowed down a little from the 15 events he used to regularly compete in, but still was on the field for the Frisbee and Javelin toss, long jump and the softball hit and throw. And more than medals and records, J.R. has collected a lot of fans and friends among his fellow competitors. He says that’s what keeps him competing – “I like the people, the participants and volunteers are great.”
He encouraged his fellow military retirees and veterans to get involved. “First, the program matches our competitive natures. It helps keep you in shape. The practice facilities and equipment are good and it gives you a goal to shoot for.”
I couldn’t agree more. This was an inspiring, fun and challenging experience and I am glad I gave myself a variety of competitions because I met some great people. How did I do? Well, I pushed myself on the 3-mile walk, completing it in 37.3 minutes for a Gold Medal performance. At the finish line I met retired Army Reservist George Cushmac, who won bronze in his age group. A first time participant like me, he learned about Senior Olympics through a senior fitness class at Ft. Myer’s fitness center. “I’m so glad I signed up, it was a fun experience,” the new medal winner told me.
I ended up winning Gold in the Mexican Train dominoes but the most memorable part of the day was meeting fellow competitor Doris Woodring. Still going strong at 102, she’s another first time competitor, also trying for Gold in Scrabble. The Washington Post did a great story on her: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/eldest-olympians-secret-to-long...
I hope I can share Doris’ energy, wit, and zest for life each coming year. Here I am (far left) with Doris to my right and Chuck Toftoy, from my first Senior Olympics blog. He took home the Bronze medal
And last, thankfully I didn’t throw too much like a girl and didn’t embarrass myself in the softball and football toss. I didn’t throw as far as I hoped, but also stayed pretty close to the accuracy line. I have to admit I brought home gold, mostly because I was the only woman competing in my age group. But if I hadn’t tried, I’d never have met J.R.
So now I’m hooked. There’s something about bringing home a gold medal that makes you want to go for more. I’ll be out there next year, how about you? Fellow military spouses, retirees and veterans, are you ready to join J.R., Jim Viggiani, Chuck Toftoy, George Cushmac and bring home some Gold? Learn more about Senior Olympics at www.nvso.us or http://www.mdseniorolympics.org/.