Meet the New Olympians: Expanding Our Image of Athletes

By Lindsay Hutter, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, Goodwin House Incorporated

GHBC residents (left to right) Marietta Tanner, Col. Jean Reed and Mandy Whalen take a break between the events at the opening games of the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics, Saturday, Sept. 15.

While watching the opening day games of the 36th Annual Northern Virginia Senior Olympics on September 14, I was struck by the determination of the athletes. Some were as young as 50; others were over 100. The events were exciting and inspiring, yet those of us there noticed something was missing. No local or cable news reporters were present, and the cheering crowds were sparse.

As I reflected on this lack of greater interest, I remembered something a former colleague, Andy Sutherden, said to me. At the time, Andy was the Global Sports Practice Leader at Hill & Knowlton, and his team was the public relations engine for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The Olympic Games were first, and the Para-Olympic Games followed immediately after.

Andy was quick to say, “It breaks my heart that as the brave and capable para-Olympians enter the Stadium for their games, the cameras turn off, and the fans go home.”

And that is how I felt September 14. It’s disconcerting that as a society, we have a very narrow view of sports and athletes. A simple Google search illustrates my point. Search “Photos of Athletes” and you will be hard-pressed to find anyone over the age of 50 represented in the hundreds of photos that result from that search. This simple search belies the fact that over 10,000 older adults compete in the biennial National Senior Games Competition, and thousands more in the annual Senior Olympics events held across the nation each year.

As a leader in reimagining aging, Goodwin House is ready to champion the ageless athlete. Here’s what it might look like:

  • People of all ages see 50+ athletes and even 90 and 100+ athletes’ practice, compete and overcome any limitations that come with aging
  • Young and middle-aged adults see that so much more is possible at the age of 70 or 80, and they begin to reimagine their own aging
  • Children come to recognize the courage of older adults and learn to encourage and cheer on people of other ages
  • And then there is the boost to local economies – imagine ticket sales, food and beverage at older adult athletic events and more?

Sports and aging would be reimagined, generations find more ways to connect and more older adults would have enhanced and fulfilling lives.

What Can Each of Us Do?

Start by supporting and participating in programs that foster older adults’ fitness and sports. Many local governments and community organizations have dedicated fitness programs for older adults and various types of competition. While you just missed the 2018 Northern Virginia Senior Olympics, there are other sports activities and competitions available year round:

Remember: You don’t have to be an Olympian to be an athlete! Some degree of regular physical exercise is extremely beneficial to overall health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) maintain that a fitness program can help with strength, endurance, flexibility and preventing falls.

According to the NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA), “regular exercise improves muscles and makes you stronger. It also helps keep your joints, tendons, and ligaments flexible. Mild weight-bearing activities, such as walking or climbing stairs, may slow bone loss from osteoporosis.” An inactive lifestyle carries a far greater health risk than a slightly strenuous exercise regimen.

The NIA recently launched their Go4Life campaign, which offers a wide range of resources including balance exercises, personal trainer videos and ways to enhance your endurance through exercise. Please note: It is important to consult your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.

Here are a few of other residents of Goodwin House Incorporated’s two Life Plan Communities that inspired me at the NVSO opening day games.

Back to my original point of this article – I encourage everyone to help expand our society’s view of what it means to be an athlete. It’s a topic much larger than what I can cover in one article, but one that can gain traction if each of us sparks conversation about breaking down the stereotypes and making way for older adults to be seen as athletes in their own right.

As Goodwin House’s Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, Lindsay Hutter leads the strategic efforts to fulfill the mission and expand the ways and places in which Goodwin House Incorporated serves older adults. A resident of Fairfax County, her career spans leadership positions in change management, market innovation, and marketing and communications.  Lindsay holds a B.S. degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Kansas and an M.A. in Political Science from Northwestern University.