When Judy Davis was the youngest of four children growing up in Bakersfield, Califorinia, she swam and played badminton — but never competitively, unless vying against her siblings counts. 

That changed 13 years ago. “My first time competing was the Maryland Senior Olympics,” the 79-year-old said.

Now, the Maryland resident looks ahead to competing in the National Senior Olympics in June. “It’s my hope to bring home a national ribbon or a medal,”

she said. 

Her 2018 Maryland Senior Olympics 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 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 said. 

 “I don’t do it for the medals,” she added, though she’s captured at least 20 Maryland Senior Olympics medals. “I do it for fun.”  

Senior Olympics is part of a busy life that Davis says keeps her mentally alert, socially engaged 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 schedule allows.

Then there’s the pool once or twice a week — “I go as often as I can” — and the gym.

Friends don’t ask her why she does 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.”

She also volunteers at her synagogue, Tikvat Israel, babysits her four grandsons, and birdwatches. 

A UCLA grad and former Jewish Social Service Agency resettlement employee, she retired from the National Institutes of Health. Soon after, a publication from Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring caught her eye. The swimmer on the cover was a Maryland Senior Olympics gold medalist.

“So I thought maybe I could do that,” she recalled. “I never tried to swim fast, just gracefully,” she said of briefly swimming with music in a high school group. She thought her height — 5 feet 10 inches — might help. “When I dive in, I have a few inches on the other ladies.”  

She went for the 50-yard breast stroke. When errors disqualified her, she kept training to improve her technique.

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.

In 1970, she married Harold Davis, now 92, and converted to Judaism.

“I enjoy doing mitzvahs,” she said. “It’s a good feeling.” 

She drives fellow synagogue congregants to medical appointments. In addition, she is a founding member of the congregation’s klezmer band, Eine Kleine Tikva. 

For the past eight years, Davis’ part-time “retirement job” has been teaching English in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program of Linkages to Learning. 

“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.” JN

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