By Mala Blomquist and Irene L. Stillwell
At the beginning of each year, millions of Americans make resolutions to improve their health. Seniors are a large part of the population that resolve again and again to adopt a healthy, active lifestyle; but just like the rest of the population, most do not keep those resolutions. Arizona Senior Olympics was begun to give seniors the motivation necessary to begin – and continue –an active and engaged lifestyle.
The Arizona Lifelong Fitness Foundation produces the Arizona Senior Olympic Games each year to motivate and foster social engagement and to award and recognize individual efforts. Seniors who participate are encouraged to train year-round for the sports of their choice. Individual sports include swimming, skiing, cycling, running, and track and field. Team sports such as softball, basketball and volleyball provide both individual recognition and the social engagement. The 2018 Arizona Senior Olympic Games offer 31 sports. Competition brackets are divided into five-year age groups so that everyone competes with people who are within five years of their own age. An awards ceremony recognizes outstanding accomplishments in each sport.
The Arizona Senior Olympics began in 1982 as the City of Phoenix Senior Olympic Games, but by 1984 word of the event had spread and seniors came from all over the state to participate. The name was changed to Arizona Senior Olympics in response to that state-wide interest. Although the games were started as a City of Phoenix program, other cities began supporting the event, which became an unusual example of inter-governmental cooperation.
When the recession began in 2008, the Arizona Senior Olympics was cut from the City of Phoenix budget, prompting the Board of Directors to file for nonprofit status as the Arizona Lifelong Fitness Foundation. ALFF is an all volunteer-run organization and has expanded its programming into other areas of fitness and health training that are enhanced by the annual Arizona Senior Olympic Games.
Sharon Salomon – Powerlifting
Sharon Salomon didn’t set out to become a competitive powerlifter; she just wanted to be able to do a military (straight-leg) push-up.
“I hired a trainer for the first time in my life to help me get strong enough to do a military push-up,” explains Sharon. “I always knew I was strong, or stronger than most other women, but after we started working out, the trainer said, ‘You’re really strong.’”
Sharon reached her goal of doing the push-up – and she just kept going. “I really found something I enjoyed,” she says. “I liked picking up heavy things so I just kept doing it.”
She is 73 now and will compete in her eighth Senior Olympics on Feb. 24. Sharon is also competing in a “regular” powerlifting competition on Feb. 10, where she will be the oldest person competing. Arizona holds the only Senior Olympics that allows women to compete in powerlifting.
Sharon has always enjoyed exercise. She ran track and played basketball in high school and volleyball in college. Her current workout routine consists of lifting with a trainer on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training and going to the Chris-Town YMCA for aerobic exercise on her off days from weight training.
“I like to move around and do sports,” she says “I’m competitive. I like the opportunity to push myself and see how far I can go.”
Bernard Savitz – Table Tennis
Bernard Savitz has been playing competitive table tennis for 30 years. In 2002, he was ranked the number one player in Arizona. He has competed on and off for the last 16 years in the Senior Olympics, always winning a silver or gold medal. The last two years he has won a gold medal in doubles with his partner George Davis. They will be returning on March 11 to try and win a third gold medal.
His table tennis skills have also earned him some fame. “I was involved with the movie ‘Forrest Gump.’ I gave lessons to all the movie stars, writers and people at Paramount,” says Bernard. “I brought some friends with me and we gave an exhibition, and then gave lessons to Tom Hanks Sally Field and Gary Sinise.”
He thought that he might be cast to play table tennis opposite Hanks in the film, but since the match was set in China and as Bernard says,” I didn’t look Chinese enough,” they cast his friend, who was from the Philippines, instead.
Bernard usually practices twice a week at the Phoenix Table Tennis Club or the Granite Reef or Via Linda Senior Centers. Sometimes he can squeeze in a third practice, but often he is too busy with his other commitments. He is the cantor and spiritual leader of Congregation Shomrei Torah. He is also an ordained rabbi.
This March, Bernard is being awarded an honorary doctorate of music by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. “It is being given to me, according to Chancellor Dr. Arnold Eisen,
‘For my 45 years of dedicated service to the cantorate and the Jewish community.’” Looks like March is going to be an exciting month for Bernard!
The Arizona Senior Olympics will run from Feb. 17 through March 18 at venues throughout the state. For more information, visit seniorgames.org.