3 competitors weigh in on the 2019 Northern Virginia Senior Olympics

The event will be held from Sept. 14 to 28 with over 40 physical and mental competitions. We spoke to three long-time Olympians about their experiences.

When the Olympics roll around every two years, spectators continue to be amazed at the physical abilities of athletes, regardless of their age or chosen sport. But Olympians can really be any age, even if they’re not on the world stage … right?

The 2019 Northern Virginia Senior Olympics (NVSO) are set to kick-off this weekend, from Sept. 14 to 28, and the event could be the biggest one yet . The Olympics take place over a two-week period at over 25 locations across Northern Virginia with 50-and-older competitors participating in every sport from Wii Bowling and cribbage to shot put and miniature golf.

After 37 years of hosting, the nonprofit organization has gathered many fans, volunteers and multi-sport competitors.

We spoke to three of the inspiring competitors, all of which got involved with NVSO for different reasons, and asked them why they think the Senior Olympics are so important. Highlights from our conversations are below.

Alease Brooks, 86, has competed in the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics for 16 years. (Photo courtesy of Robert Paine)

Alease Brooks

2019 Torch Bearer and multi-sport competitor
Attendees of the NVSO for the past 16 years have probably met this year’s torch-bearer, Alease Brooks. She’s a go-getting, nonstop 86-year-old who believes the secret to her great health and happy spirit is staying busy, keeping herself active and finding something to be positive about every day.

This year she is competing in 13 events, including pickle ball (in three different variations), shot put, discus and javelin, long jump, standing long jump, the 800-meter walk and 1600-meter walk, and the 60-meter dash and 200-meter dash. When she’s not actively training for the upcoming competitions, she teaches two group fitness classes, one in aerobics and another as a chair-exercise class, in her living community and spends weekends with her family.

Have you always been this active and athletic?
I was always active when I was young, and I was always doing something. I grew up with four brothers so we were like tomboys, and I grew up playing baseball with them all the time. When I taught high school, I also taught physical education and health, so I was always doing something and I liked being busy.

How does it feel to be this year’s torch bearer?
I am excited and motivated beyond words. I was so honored and thrilled when they chose me, and I was shocked that they even asked me, because there’s so many people they could have asked. [NVSO] keeps me going and I think it makes a lot of older people so happy.

If you were to inspire someone to get active or join the NVSO, what would you tell them?
I just really, seriously believe that you should do what you can do, while you can do it. When I can’t do exercise, I’m alright, because I’ve done it while I can do it. So do what you can, while you can. I even encourage young people to do it. When I play pickle ball, the young people are always asking me questions ad I just say, “Stay active. Even if you’re retired, just stay busy.” There are so many things that people can do, and older people are doing more these days because there are so many things to do. There’s no reason not to do something.

Any words of advice for our readers from an Olympian?
I seriously think the key to healthier living is exercising. I don’t take any medication, and I think it’s because I exercise and I keep positive. My doctor even says, “If only all of my patients were as active and as busy as you!” And keep positive. There is something positive in every day. Every day of my life, I am just so happy. Every day I am grateful, and I think that’s the most important thing for me. Give back to other people, be positive and always find something to do.

Herb Levitan, 80, has competed in the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics for 14 years. (Photo courtesy of Robert Paine)

Herb Levitan

Multi-sport competitor of 14 years for NVSO
Although Herb Levitan had jogged and played multiple sports as a kid, he never formally competed in sports when in high school or college. But that all changed when he retired in 2005. Levitan decided to get involved in NVSO through the swimming events, the 50-yard freestyle and breast stroke to be exact, as well as the basketball free throws and the softball hit-and-throw event.

At 80 years old this year, he had planned on competing in a multitude of events, including rowing, the 10K and 20K cycling races, orienteering, Wii Bowling, eight-ball pool, the football and Frisbee throws, softball hit-and-throw, bocce and handball, seven different swimming events, basketball friend goals and free throws, four track and field events, as well as three pickle ball events.

Unfortunately, a recent eye injury has cause Levitan to be on the sidelines this year, but he is looking back fondly on his 14 years of competing, and looks forward to celebrating 15 years since he started in 2020.

That’s a lot of events you had planned! How often do you exercise and train?
I exercise and train by swimming just about every day, and cycling wherever I go about town. I usually play pickle ball twice a week, and practice shooting basketball free throws and using the gym’s weight machines when I am waiting for my turn in a pickle ball game. The only other times I do the other events are at the NVSO, and it shows. But I do really enjoy the benefits of cross-training and the camaraderie among the participants in various sports of the NVSO. And if I try something new, there are always several people eager to provide advice and instruction for the asking.

What is one of your favorite memories with the NVSO?
In trying to identify a particularly memorable moment or event, I recall seeing a fellow participant’s great pleasure on being enthusiastically cheered by his grandchildren at a field event. The pride that grandparents and parents express in their children and grandchildren’s academic, musical and athletic accomplishments is common place, a widely accepted phenomenon. But what gives me particular pride and motivation to continue participating in the NVSO and other senior athletic activities is the pride, pleasure and enthusiasm that my children and grandchildren, as well as my spouse and other family members and friends, express in my participation and modest accomplishments. It is these expressions of interest, in addition to my own sense of well-being, that motivates me to workout, train and continue to participate. I hope I am setting an example that motivates them to be physically active and to explore new ways to remain active as we age.

If you were to inspire someone to get active or join the NVSO, what would you tell them?
The Northern Virginia Senior Olympics is just about the least expensive, high-quality fun you can have at the local level, and it provides opportunities to participate in many events that are not offered at the state or national Senior Games. If one has experience with an event similar to the NVSO, it offers an opportunity to meet and enjoy the camaraderie of others with similar interests and get a sense of the level of your achievement. If one has never had experience with an event offered by the NVSO, it is an opportunity to try out something new, with little or no investment in equipment, but ready access to the facilities and equipment needed. One might discover a new interest worth pursing or perhaps a new passion. This happened to me with pickle ball as interest in this new sport was taking off, and more recently with orienteering.

Andrew Leighton, 72, has competed in the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics for 22 years. (Photo courtesy of Robert Paine)

Andrew Leighton

Multi-sport competitor for 22 years
Andrew Leighton got involved with the NVSO after his wife handed him an entry form on his 50th birthday (the first year he would be eligible to compete). He decided to compete in tennis and ended up walking away with a gold medal that year. Ever since, he has competed in the NVSO as often as he could.

Playing pickle ball is where he feels most comfortable now at age 72, as it helps him stay in tune with his competitive spirit that he had in high school and college. About eight years ago, Leighton was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but he hasn’t let it slow him down. Instead, he has taken up a schedule of rowing three times a week, and it inspired him to sign up for the rowing event this year. Otherwise, he’ll be competing in pickle ball and rowing events for 2019.

Talk to me about your Parkinson’s diagnosis. How has that impacted your activity level?
What we know now is that exercising can quiet one symptom, and there is evidence to suggest that it can slow the progression of the disease. So as a result, I simply view every day as a little contest between me and Parkinson’s. If I exercise, I win the day. If I sit on the couch, I lose the day. And I can say, there are no days where I sit on the couch. It also helps to be social and be out with people. Parkinson’s wants to quiet you down, slow you down, shorten your step, to make you crouch over, and it wants to keep you at home. And NVSO is the exact opposite of all of that.

If you were to inspire someone to get active or join the NVSO, what would you tell them?
The NVSO is a very friendly operation, and you are absolutely going to make some new friends. They’re waiting for you, you just have to enter. And the variety of things you can do is enormous and so convenient. You can sign up for anything you want. That’s why I entered for rowing. At $15 to enter for as many events as you’d like, why shouldn’t I?

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