No matter if you compete or volunteer, the NVSO has something for you

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Story by Rob Paine

This story originally appeared in the Senior section of the Fairfax County Times, July 26, 2019

A bocce bug leads a former Capitol policeman to six gold medals

Retired U.S. Capitol policeman Nick Garito of Fairfax first caught the bocce bug at a festival in Rockville twelve years ago. Upon his return to Fairfax, he asked the director of the Young At Heart Senior Center about building a bocce court.

His idea became a reality thanks to the local Lions club which built two bocce courts launching Garito on his successful run with the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics. He has won gold in bocce six times and is now honing his game for the 2019 NVSO.

To hear Nick Garito talk about the NVSO on iHeart radio please click here!

Competing in NVSO taking on new meaning for man with Parkinson’s

Helen White knew exactly what to get for her husband Andy Leighton’s 50th birthday in 1997 : a trip to a local community center in Arlington, Virginia, so he could sign up for the NVSO.

The Arlington resident entered the NVSO tennis tournament that year and won a gold medal. Two decades of competing and a Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis have not slowed Andy’s appetite for the NVSO.

RSVP volunteer and NVSO competitor Carol Mackela of Springfield has been diving competitively for 14 years and started diving with the NVSO when the event was introduced to the games in 2008. Carol is shown during one of her dives in the 2018 NVSO. (Photo by Tom Simpson/RSVP)

Springfield senior diver enjoys the NVSO for the camaraderie

Carol Mackela of Springfield, who sits on the NVSO board excels in diving on the local, national and international level. She has been diving competitively for 14 years and started diving with the NVSO when the event was introduced to the games in 2008.

To view a short Fairfax Channel 16 video on Carol, please click here. 

All three veteran NVSO medalists say they enjoy the competitive as as well as the social aspects of the senior games.

“I do enjoy meeting other divers,” Mackela says. “It is very collegial.” She says the number one reason she returns year after year is “for the camaraderie”

Garito says he was drawn to the NVSO because he is a life long competitor. “As a child I was a marble champion,” Garito says. In high school he was on a championship basketball team. “Win or lose it’s fun,” says Garito who is in his 80’s. “It’s a fun way of spending your life.”

Retired U.S. Capitol policeman Nick Garito of Fairfax, right,  has won gold six times in the NVSO bocce competition. Garito says he was drawn to the NVSO because he is a life long competitor. (Photo by Rob Paine/RSVP)

In addition to hosting the NVSO bocce tournament each fall, the senior center at Green Acres in the City of Fairfax offers bocce play each Thursday. Garito is always happy to tutor newcomers. The senior center’s manager Anne Chase is on the NVSO board and is the event director for both the bocce and horseshoe competitions.

Competing in the games took on a different meaning for Leighton after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system.

Helen White, right, registered her husband Andy Leighton (left) in the NVSO for his 50th birthday in 1997.  Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Andy says competing in the NVSO pickleball event has taken on new meaning. (Photo by Rob Paine/RSVP-Northern Virginia)

Several years ago Leighton switched over to pickleball, one of his wife’s favorite sports. After his diagnosis he discovered that playing pickleball temporarily reduces the involuntary movements associated with Parkinson’s.

When playing he says “I am not focused on my disease. I feel terrific being involved in pickleball for more reasons than one,” Leighton adds.

Leighton says competing in the NVSO has given him the confidence to jump to higher levels in the sport. He has competed in pickleball tournaments on the regional and national levels. He’s also started an awareness effort to help others with the disease.

To listen to Leighton interviewed on WERA’s “Aging Matters” show, please click here. 

The 2019 games run Saturday, Sept. 14 thru Sept. 28. All registrations must be completed by Aug. 31. Paper registrations, available at most local recreation and senior centers that can also be downloaded at, must be postmarked by Aug. 24. There will be no on site or day of registration.

The 2019 NVSO includes more than 60 events that exercise the mind as well as the body. To qualify competitors must be at least 50-years-old by Dec. 31, 2019, and be a resident of Northern Virginia. You can never be too old to enter. Several centenarians competed in 2018, including a 101-year old woman who earned gold in duplicate bridge.

The NVSO began in 1982 with about 80 competitors and a handful of events. In 2018, more than 800 people took part, making it one of the largest annual senior events in the region. This year’s games take place at more than two dozen venues located throughout Northern Virginia.

In addition to offering traditional Olympic-style events, the NVSO also has games that exercise the mind, including bridge, sudoko and one of this year’s new competitions, jigsaw puzzle. For those more active line-dancing has been added.

In addition to being sponsored by local jurisdictions, the NVSO receives support from numerous businesses and media outlets.

RSVP’s mobilization of volunteers is critical to games’ success

The mobilization of more than 100 volunteers is critical to the NVSO’s success, according to RSVP-Northern Virginia, a volunteer program of Volunteer Fairfax Volunteer Arlington and Volunteer Alexandria that provides a free personalized matching service those 55 or better seeking fun and meaningful service opportunities.

RSVP volunteer engagement leader Ken Kozloff, left,  of Springfield manages volunteers at the NVSO’s largest events including the NVSO swim meet in South Riding.  Kozloff emphasizes you don’t have to have a background in sports to volunteer. (Photo by Rob Paine/RSVP)

Q242tMh-0sizeoriginalRSVP volunteer engagement leader Ken Kozloff of Springfield manages volunteers at the NVSO’s largest events. Kozloff emphasizes you don’t have to have a background in sports to volunteer. His training for volunteers on event day typically lasts a few minutes.

“We train you right there on the spot,” he says. As an RSVP engagement leader, Ken’s role is to make sure volunteers are prepared and are in the right place at the right time and are having a good time.

Why does Kozloff urge everyone to volunteer at the NVSO?

“It’s seeing these people, that are 50, 70, 80, 90, actually participating in something and watching them compete and seeing the joy that it brings them is phenomenal ,” says Kozloff. NVSO volunteers do everything from greeting and signing in competitors to timing races.

To hear an interview with Ken about volunteering with RSVP and the NVSO on the Fairfax County 50+ Podcast, please click here. 

Those interested in becoming an NVSO volunteer should call 703-403-5360 or register online at Individuals as young as 16 are eligible to volunteers at the games

New this year for competitors is a flat registration fee of $15 allows participants to compete in as many events as they choose with the exception of bowling, cycling, golf and orienteering which have additional charges. There is no admission fee for spectators.

A list of events, rules and locations can be found at The NVSO is a nonprofit and is a joint project of the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church and the counties of Arlington,Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, and Prince William.

For more info on the NVSO please visit For more info on RSVP visit or call RSVP volunteer specialist Brandi Morris at 703-403-5360.

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