Back when Judy Davis was the youngest of four children growing up in Bakersfield, California, she swam and played badminton — but never competitively, unless vying against her siblings counts.
That changed about 13 years ago. “My first time competing was the Maryland Senior Olympics,” the 79-year-old said.
Now, having medaled in swimming and badminton in the 2018 Maryland Senior Olympics, the longtime Rockville resident and member of Tikvat Israel Congregation looks ahead to competing in the National Senior Olympics set for June in Albuquerque, New Mexico — her second trip to the nationals. “It’s my hope to bring home a national ribbon or a medal.” It would be her first in the nationals.
Her 2018 Maryland golds were in women’s doubles and mixed doubles badminton; she took silvers in two 50-yard swim events, women’s breast stroke and freestyle. She’ll compete in those swim events and at least one badminton event.
Competition is generally stiffer in the nationals. She will be in an older age bracket than in recent years — 80 to 84, which may work in her favor. “Every year it’s a smaller group,” she noted.
“I don’t do it for the medals,” she said, though she’s captured at least 20 Maryland Senior Olympics medals, according to available results. “I do it for fun.”
Senior Olympics is an integral part of a busy life that Davis says helps keep her mentally alert, socially engaged, physically active and happy.
This is Davis’ weekly schedule of commitments: Monday — volleyball; Tuesday — teaching English; Wednesday — volleyball; Thursday — teaching English; Friday — pickleball. She plays badminton as her teaching schedule allows, but practices a bit at home.
Add in the pool once or twice a week. “I go there as often as I can. It’s hard to fit in.”
Add in the gym. “In between, I try to go to my gym,” she said. “Boring” is how she refers to lifting weights. “But I can build up strength.”
She relishes the exercise.
Friends “don’t ask me why I do it. They ask me how I do it,” she said.
“Sometimes I get up stiff and tired. And then I go play pickleball and I forget about the tiredness.”
Then there’s volunteering at Tikvat Israel, babysitting her four grandsons (two of her three children are parents), learning to identify the birds at the edge of the woods by her home and more.
A UCLA grad and former Jewish Social Service Agency resettlement employee, she retired from arranging for visas for foreign professionals at the National Institutes of Health. Soon after, a publication from Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring caught her eye. The woman on the cover was a Maryland Senior Olympics gold medalist in swimming.
“So, I thought maybe I could do that,” she recalls. “I never tried to swim fast, just gracefully,” she said of briefly swimming with music in a high school group.
“I’m tall” — 5-foot-10 — “[so] when I dive in, I have a few inches on the other ladies.”
Besides, she enjoys expanding her horizons.
She went for the 50-yard breast stroke, learning its differences from synchronized swimming.
When errors disqualified her, she didn’t quit; she kept training to improve her technique and form as well as work on speed.
Two summers ago, a friend encouraged her to compete in freestyle. “I said I never attempted to swim fast, except to beat my brother.” Practice at the pool landed her freestyle silvers.
She got into competitive badminton eight years ago, first singles and then doubles.
Davis is an active volunteer at Tikvat Israel.
In 1970, she married Harold Davis, now 92, and converted to Judaism while they were still in California; she’s been a congregant since shortly after they moved to Maryland for his job more than 45 years ago.
“I enjoy doing mitzvahs,” she said. “It’s a good feeling.”
She drives congregants to medical and other appointments.
In addition, she is a founding member of the congregation’s klezmer band — begun, she says, more than a decade ago after another member sought musicians interested in forming one.
“I didn’t know what klezmer music was,” she said. However, she played flute since childhood and was excited to learn a new genre of music. She has been in Eine Kleine Tikva ever since.
She also helps longtime friend Toby Altman of Rockville with the senior program.
“She helps me set up and clean up, and she sometimes drives people to the program,” Altman said. Altman says she has watched her friend practice badminton. “She really enjoys competing,” Altman said.
For the past eight years, her part-time “retirement job” has been teaching English in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program of Linkages to Learning, which helps children and their families. She teaches adults, this year an advanced class. Only English is allowed in her classroom.
“Every year I say ‘Maybe I will stop now.’”
Of course, she doesn’t. And she has no plan to stop her participation in Senior Olympics — for at least a decade: “I want to make it to 90. … Then, we’ll see.”
Andrea F. Siegel is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer.