Charting the Course for Senior Athletes

In

Last Updated on February 4, 2024

1-on-1 with the New National Senior Games Association President & CEO

With more participants than the Olympics, the National Senior Games is the largest multi-sport qualifying event in the entire world. The National Senior Games Association (NSGA) has been hosting the biennial event since 1987 offering competition in more than 20 sports including pickleball, volleyball, swimming, track and field, table tennis, softball, basketball and more. Over the years, the games have seen steady growth in attendance and exposure. That growth can be traced to two main factors – the unprecedented increase in the number of older adults in the U.S. and the results of multiple studies proving conclusively that regular physical activity and socialization around that activity lead to longer, healthier, and happier lives.

At its core, the National Senior Games is a grassroots health and wellbeing movement and the woman charged with growing that movement and leading the NSG into the future is new president and chief executive officer, Sue Hlavacek.

Hlavacek has been with the NSGA for more than a decade and is fresh off a successful 2023 games in Pittsburgh as the NSGA’s interim CEO. More than 11,500 athletes from age 50 to 100 competed in Pittsburgh and were energized by the experience. “One of the ways I measure success is feedback from our competitors,” Hlavacek told Growing Bolder. “The athletes responded through letters, emails, and surveys and have told us what a great experience they had. It was also a major win for the city. We had a $32 million economic impact on the city of Pittsburgh.”

Hlavacek is the first woman to lead the NSGA in its over 30-year history. She’s excited that organized sports for older adults are perfectly aligned with a growing focus on healthy aging and positive lifestyle choices. “There are unlimited opportunities to expand our mission further,” Hlavacek said. “Whether it’s adding different sports or creating more general health and wellbeing programming, our goal is to get everyone off the couch and moving. I want people to know that it’s never too late to get started. A lot of our athletes never participated in sports until their 50s, 60s, or 70s. And before Title IX, most females didn’t have an opportunity to participate at all. It’s a great way to stay active whether you have experience as an athlete or not.”

The NSGA recently announced that the 2025 games will take place in Des Moines, Iowa and Hlavacek has already made good on her promise to include different sports adding billiards, disc golf, power lifting, Tai Chi, and beach volleyball. “We are very excited to be going to Des Moines. The venues, the airports, and the restaurants are all within a 15-minute drive, which is a huge plus for our athletes. Des Moines is ready to wrap their arms around us and we’re already in the planning process with them.”

During her one-on-one with Growing Bolder’s Marc Middleton, Hlavacek, a former women’s professional basketball player and a college and high school hall of fame member, wouldn’t commit to competing in Des Moines. “I have too many other items to be concerned with right now,” she laughed. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to get back on the court someday. I always get recruited to play basketball, but I haven’t taken the step yet.”

The competition is compelling but for many, the real draw is the camaraderie and the socialization. “You’ll see the more experienced athletes helping the athletes that have never stepped on a track or played basketball,” Hlavacek said. “It’s a community of support and encouragement in which friendships are formed. It’s almost like a sorority or a fraternity where they become a member of a group experiencing at one time something unique and powerful.

While the next national games are in 2025, there’s no off year for athletes, who must qualify at their local games in 2024 to compete in Iowa. So why not get off the couch and get in the games! Just visit NSGA.com/state-games-information to register for a state competition.

This article is featured in the Winter 2023 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.

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