2 local woman qualify for senior Olympics

Varga Berrien and Jessica Brigham competed in the Ohio Senior Olympics last month in Cleveland, and their performances in the 1500 meter race walk qualified them for the 2013 National Senior Olympics, also hosted in Cleveland.

Berrien, 69, won the gold medal in the 65-69 age division in a time of 10:41 and Brigham secured a bronze medal with her 10:44 time.

The two women met at a church picnic in 1999 and discovered a mutual passion for walking. They have been power walking at the C.J. Brown Reservoir since the day after they met but only began their race walk training in June.

Vince Peters of the Miami Valley Track Club in Yellow Springs helped the women train and taught them the difference between power walking and race walking.

“I thought of power walking as really fast-paced walking, but race walking has a very distinct technique,” Brigham said.

The movements of race walking include extending the legs, exaggerating hip movements and pumping the arms.

Brigham and Berrien said the first few days of training for race walking were difficult because of the multiple techniques to master.

“We were realizing we had to go heel and toe, then you’re extending your knee,” Brigham said. “It’s hard to try and do all of those and keep them in the head a the same time.”

The end result of the race was also surprising to the women as they had much less training than some of their competitors. The woman who received the silver medal in Brigham and Berrien’s age group had been training for 11 years.

Berrien said she was also surprised to have won the gold because Brigham had always been the leader in the training sessions, but the women hadn’t trained with one element of the race.

“When they shot that gun off, it kind of froze her because we weren’t used to that,” Berrien said.

Both Brigham and Berrien are retired and walk at least four times a week, often at the reservoir. They plan to keep training, even after the National Senior Olympics next year.

Dayton hosts a regional Senior Olympics every May with a series of events that include shuffleboard, horseshoes, badminton and bowling. The games are open to anyone over the age of 50. Ohio Senior Olympics are also held each year at rotating sites around the state. Medalists at the Ohio Olympics in even-numbered years qualify for the National Senior Olympics.

Brigham and Berrien said their goal is to get more seniors involved in physical activity, Berrien said, because of the health and fitness benefits.

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