Hershman compliments ‘wonderful camaraderie’

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Myrna Hershman admitted she really didn’t know track times when she started volunteering with the St. Louis Senior Olympics. However, as a swimmer, with her own kids on swim teams and helping to run swimming events with 800 kids — she did know swimming times.

“It was an eye opener to see a 65-year-old doing the 50-yard backstroke in 28 seconds,” Hershman said. “Jaws dropped when you saw some of those times. They were very impressive.”

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Hershman recalled the first time the games were held in St. Louis no knew quite what to expect. They were planned as a way to commemorate the Jewish Community Center’s (JCC) 100th anniversary. There were 400 competitors for the first games. The event which was originally planned as the one-time celebration became an annual event, said Hershman.

“I remember with the earlier games when the top age category was 65 plus,” Hershman said. “We didn’t expect to see too many participants in that category. Now, the age categories go from 50 years to 90 plus years.”

Many athletes return year after year, said Hershman.

“People are serious about competing,” Hershman said. “Yet there is such a great spirit, sense of community, helping each other and cheering everybody. There is no stigma to being last.”

Hershman started volunteering with the St. Louis Senior Olympics when she was in her 40s. She remembers seeing the competitors who were in their 60s and 70s and looking at the senior population in a whole new way.

“These were healthy older people,” Hershman said. “They were able to do these things and do them well.”

There was one year a track event was started a little early because the staff thought all of the participants were present. Then one lady arrived at the scheduled time and of course they allowed her to compete, said Hershman. She felt bad the woman would have to run by herself.

“So at age 55 and wearing tight jeans, I decided to run with her so she wouldn’t be on the track by herself,” Hershman said. “At the 100-meter mark I ‘hit the wall’: I couldn’t move, crawl or walk. It is harder than it looks. You cannot just wake up one morning and decide to compete. You need to train.”

Hershman recalled one of the competitors in the bike race which included every type of bike from the kind that kids ride home from school with tube tires to expensive racing bikes.

“There was one man competing who had an old bike and beer belly,” Hershman said. “He didn’t do very well and he vowed to return the next year. He lost weight, trained during the year, got a good bike and won the following year.”

Then there was the year Hershman decided to compete herself. She started training to participate in the race/walk and then ended up having major surgery and not being able to compete.

“I decided I was better off running the event than running in the event,” Hershman said.

Hershman grew up in Chicago and received her degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois in Urbana. She went to work for the Food and Drug Administration since “in those days women couldn’t get jobs in industry, but the government was gender neutral.”

“You could tell which people couldn’t get jobs in industry in the private sector,” Hershman said. “Like the boss who was Jewish and ten years later finally a black woman was hired — you could see the progression over the years.”

She remembers her mother saying in her day, if a woman got married she couldn’t keep her job, she would be fired.

“We live in such a different world,” Hershman said. “We take so much for granted.”

This year marks Hershman’s 49th wedding anniversary to her husband Arnold (Arnie). The couple has three children and four grandsons. She sold real estate for 20 years and now does tax returns during the busy season. Hershman enjoys traveling, opera and doing volunteer work which includes the used book sale at the JCC and the Senior Olympics.

“The Senior Olympics helps keep people young,” Hershman said. “They stay fit; celebrate fitness and getting together and sharing friendships. They train and have great fun.”

In 1995, Hershman received the Doc Eberhardt Memorial Award which is given to individuals who exemplify the qualities of St. Louis Senior Olympics including: dedication, volunteerism and service. She has done a myriad of volunteer activities over the years for the event. She can often be found keeping track of the times at the track events, assisting at swimming events including running the men’s bull pen, timing if necessary and helping with the results. She was event chairman for three years and co-chaired the event for two years.

“There is a wonderful camaraderie,” Hershman said. “Volunteers show up and have so much fun they stay past their assigned shifts. People stay involved for years and years. It is such a great experience and great way to celebrate health and staying healthy.”