Department of Family Services – Older Adults

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Trina Mayhan-Webb

Connect, Compete and Have Fun at the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics!

Article by Gwen Jones, Department of Family Services

(Posted 2024 July)

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The Northern Virginia Senior Olympics (NVSO) were founded in 1982, created by a coalition of local Northern Virginia parks and recreation departments and other agencies. The mission of the NVSO is to promote health, fitness and the psychological well-being of older adults by providing opportunities for participation, competition, self-improvement and fellowship through various athletic and recreational events. The NVSO has enjoyed continuous success over the 40-plus years it has taken place, with the number of participants growing each year. According to the NVSO, over half of the participants (59%) who competed in the 2023 games had participated in previous games. What motivates participants to return each year and why should you consider joining them? 

Hannah Phillips

Photo of Hannah Phillips high-fiving a fellow athlete after completing a race at the NVSO games.
Hannah Phillips (right) congratulates another competitor following a race at the 2023 Northern VA Senior Olympics.

Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Hannah Phillips was interested in playing sports, but found that opportunities for girls to participate were often limited or nonexistent. It wasn’t until she reached adulthood that she had the opportunity to compete. While serving in the U.S. Army, Phillips participated in intramural sports with her unit, and at age 40, she joined a city rowing club, rowing out of the Potomac Boat Club. Nine years later, her women’s four-person crew won gold at the World Rowing Masters Regatta. 

In 2005, at age 53, Phillips competed in her first NVSO. Prior to signing up for the NVSO, Phillips had never competed in track and field events, but she dominates the competition every year. She is the current recordholder in 20 individual events, mostly track and field. Her oldest record in the Women’s 400 Meter Run (age 50-54), set in 2005, still stands today. 

Since she began competing in the NVSO, Phillips has rarely missed a year. While she enjoys the competition, she also looks forward to spending time with her fellow athletes, catching up with old friends, and making new ones. Phillips takes her preparations for the games seriously, with regular workouts, goal focused training, a healthy diet, and taking periods of rest to allow her body to recover in order to avoid injury. 

Phillips believes that participating in athletics is an important activity for aging well, citing its many benefits such as stress reduction, better sleep, and building community connections. She is grateful for the opportunity to compete each year, saying, “NVSO provides a uniquely positive outlet and rewarding activity to be a part of to support a healthy lifestyle.” She encourages first timers to give the NVSO a try. To prepare for the games, she suggests signing up for a fun fitness class or activity to get moving and stay motivated. 

Jerry Bradley

Photo of Jerry Bradley throwing a horseshoe in competition at the 2023 NVSO games.
Jerry Bradley competing in horseshoes at the 2023 NVSO games.

Jerry Bradley started competing in the NVSO in 2015 when he was eighty years old. Since then, he has competed every year that the games have taken place. He learned about the games from his neighbor, who participated and encouraged Bradley to sign up. Bradley competes primarily in track and field events and throwing events (horseshoes, football, softball, etc.) In 2023, he won silver in five events and gold in seven events. He is also the record holder in four events (ages 85-89.) 

Prior to the NVSO, Bradley’s athletic experience consisted primarily of coaching his children’s and grandchildren’s soccer and baseball teams and playing on a Northern Virginia Senior Softball team. He plans to compete in the 2024 games and has started walking to train for his track and field events. He shares that he doesn’t train for his other events, saying, “I don’t prepare for field events or throwing events – I just show up and see what happens.”

For Bradley, a major benefit of competing in the NVSO is seeing old friends and meeting new people. He also enjoys getting to know the volunteers and talking to the young people who volunteer. He encourages new people to join the fun and not worry too much about their sports prowess. “A lot of the people who compete have backgrounds in sports but not everyone,” he says. 

Mandy Whalen

Photo of Mandy Whalen smiling and wearing a medal at the 2023 NVSO games.
Mandy Whalen at the 2023 NVSO games.

Mandy Whalen first competed in the NVSO in 2011 when she was 71 years old and has competed nearly every year since then. Last year, she won gold medals in three events (age 80-84) and holds records in six events.

During her first year competing in NVSO, Whalen participated in walking events only, but was so successful that she signed up for running events in subsequent years. Her participation in running events also extended to local road races, including the Fairfax Four Miler, Crystal City 5K Fridays, and the Marine Corps Marathon 10K. 

Although Whalen doesn’t consider herself an athlete, her late-in-life athletic success isn’t surprising since she has been physically active throughout her life. A slow but steady swimmer, she taught children to swim while working as a camp counselor while growing up in Massachusetts. Later, during the 25 years she lived in New York City, she walked nearly everywhere. She also took dance classes while pursuing a career in acting. 

“Personally, I think doing activities that challenge you, both physically and mentally, trying new things and having fun and laughing (at yourself more than others) is more important than athletics,” Whalen says. Her perspective has led her to try (and compete in) a variety of NVSO events, including springboard diving, discus, shot put, and sudoku. Her willingness to try new things also led her to discover the benefits of practicing yoga in her later years.

Whalen’s favorite part of competing in the NVSO is the spirit of camaraderie experienced by the athletes. She encourages people to sign up for the 2024 games, saying, “There's a considerable range of activities, so you can probably find something that intrigues you.” For those who are not quite ready to compete, she suggests volunteering to get a better understanding of how everything works and meet people. 

Deborah and Albert (Gee) Winchester

Photo of Deborah and Albert Winchester playing pickleball at the 2023 NVSO games.
The Winchesters competing in the 2023 NVSO games.

Deborah and Gee Winchester are NVSO champions in what is undoubtedly the hottest sport around – pickleball! Last year, they won gold in Mixed Doubles Pickleball (age 60-64.) Deborah also took home the gold in Women’s Doubles Pickleball (age 60-64.) Deborah first competed in NVSO in 2019 in Women’s doubles and singles pickleball. The 2020 games were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she returned the following year, competing in her two original events, plus mixed doubles with Gee. 

The Winchesters have always been athletic, playing tennis for most of their lives before getting hooked on pickleball. The NVSO was their first opportunity to play in a competitive pickleball tournament. Their favorite aspects of competing are the camaraderie among the players, the chance to play with referees, win medals, and have fun.  

Although there are more competitors in the younger age categories, Gee noticed that it doesn’t dampen the older athletes’ enthusiasm for competing. “You see a few folks that are pretty old and they’re moving a little slower but they’re being active, and they enjoy this as much as anyone else,” he says. Deborah notes that the NVSO offers something for everyone, no matter their experience, interest, or activity level. 

Lynn Thompson

Photo of Lynn Thompson posing with her fellow miniature golf medalists at the 2023 NVSO games.
Lynn Thompson (center) with her fellow 2023 medalists in miniature golf.

Lynn Thompson has competed in the NVSO since 2016. A dedicated athlete, she has participated in numerous sports, including women’s soccer, softball (women/co-ed), women’s baseball, women’s roller hockey, and flag football (women/co-ed). Thompson has competed in a wide variety of NVSO events, including swimming, mini golf, track and field, and a number of throwing events. In 2023, she won five silver medals and two bronze medals. 

In 2024, she plans to compete in swimming, throwing events, mini golf and pickleball. To prepare for the games, her training will include swimming laps, practicing mini golf at Oakmont Rec Center, and visiting Green Acres Senior Center to practice bocce ball, horseshoes and basketball.

Thompson believes that athletics benefit older adults in a variety of ways. Physically, playing sports helps you stay in shape and can improve flexibility. She also believes that the focus required to play a sport helps keep your mind sharp. Finally, participating in sports has social benefits – providing an opportunity to get out of the house, connect with people, and make new friends. 

Thompson’s favorite parts of the NVSO are the competition and the friendly people she’s met. She encourages new people to sign up and experience the inclusive environment of the games. “Everyone is very accepting of everyone else no matter what your skill level is. Everyone is very encouraging; they want everyone else to do well,” she says. She encourages people who aren’t interested in competing to volunteer. Last year, Thompson ran competitions as a volunteer and also competed in other events. 

The 2024 NVSO will take place Saturday, September 14, through Sunday, September 29. To compete in the NVSO, participants must by age 50 and older and live in one of the sponsoring jurisdictions – the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church, or Arlington Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun or Prince William Counties. Register Monday, July 1, through Thursday, August 29. For more information and to register, visit

Please note: all photos courtesy of NVSO.

This article is part of the Golden Gazette monthly newsletter which covers a variety of topics and community news concerning older adults and caregivers in Fairfax County. Are you new to the Golden Gazette? Don’t miss out on future newsletters! Subscribe to get the electronic or free printed version mailed to you. Have a suggestion for a topic? Share it in an email or call 703-324-GOLD (4653).

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