1,200+ St. Louis athletes over 50 prove they are winners who keep winning



Over Memorial Day weekend, as a Jewish Light freelance reporter and photographer, I spent time at the Jewish Community Center’s Staenberg Family Complex where much of the 2023 St. Louis Senior Olympics were taking place. More than 1,200 athletes, ages 50 and up, participated in roughly 90 events.

In addition to reporting and photographing several of the competitions, I spoke with some of the athletes and volunteers who helped to make this 43rd annual event a success.


A dozen and counting

Sylvana Airan is an accomplished table tennis player. She won three medals at the St. Louis Senior Olympics on Saturday, May 27, including a doubles victory in the age 65-70 group with partner Beverly Manning.

“She’s amazing,” said Manning, 65, who only met Airan shortly before their match. “She asked me if I wanted to pair up and I said sure.”

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Airan has been competing in table tennis events at Senior Olympics around the country for about eight years. Her goal is to see how many states she can check off. She’s already made it to 12.

Airan, 70, also has some Jewish heritage in her family. Her mother’s father was Jewish, and is buried in Bani Israel Graveyard in Karachi, Pakistan.

“He was the chairman of the Jewish community in Karachi,” Airan said. “Jews were being persecuted and many families escaped from Pakistan in the early 1970s. The Jewish families decided when they were going to leave, but they wouldn’t tell anybody.

“So they would fly into Iran first. The Shah of Iran helped get them from Iran to Israel, because they were not allowed to fly directly from Pakistan to Israel.”

From competitor to volunteer

The Senior Olympics runs smoothly thanks in part to the dedicated volunteers who keep all the events running on schedule. One of those 300 volunteers is Mary Chapman. She was a Senior Olympics competitor for a number of years, and in 2023 as in past years, she will be volunteering.

“I volunteer at the Senior Olympics, at the Jewish Book Festival, anywhere they need me,” Chapman said.

Her volunteer work and dedication also earned Chapman a new honor last week. She is the 2023 recipient of the I.E. Millstone Community Service Award.

Shuffling back the years

Jack Skilling and Anzel Shoults, the co-gold medal winners at the St. Louis Senior Olympics shuffleboard competition (age 65+ division) had never met each other before their match on May 28. That’s surprising, given that the two athletes have been participating for a combined 56 years.

Shoults, 91, has been a Senior Olympics regular for 31 years. Skilling, 86, is a 25-year veteran. This year, he’s also competing in bocce and bowling.

Shoults has competed in table tennis and basketball in previous years. Now, he uses a walker, which limits his mobility—but only slightly. He still wields a mean shuffleboard cue.

“I like the competition,” Shoults said.

Skilling said meeting new friends like Shoults is part of the attraction. “It’s great camaraderie,” he said. “And it’s fun. I feel like a kid again!”

More and more events for Mohr

Alice Mohr served up an ace to deliver a 21-20 victory and match win for her mixed doubles badminton team at the Senior Olympics on Saturday, May 27. Mohr’s partner Steve Frei called Mohr “just awesome.” She was the finesse player on the team and Frei provided the power.

Mohr, 91, was just getting started. On Monday, May 29, she competed in another 10 events, including several track and field, the soccer kick and home run derby.

“I’m doing the track events and the jumps,” said Mohr. “There’s an incentive to keep active and be able to still do it, and to win in your own age bracket.”

To prepare for the Senior Olympics, Mohr walks and exercises every day at Aberdeen Heights Senior Living (a Senior Olympics sponsor). She also regularly plays water volleyball. Mastering badminton, she said, requires agility, hand-eye coordination and good balance.

In 1995, Mohr started competing in the Senior Olympics. She had just retired after a long career teaching physical education and industrial technology. In addition to competing, Mohr is a volunteer for the Senior Olympics.

Weight lifting, the key to longevity

Lester Seligman, 91, has been weightlifting for quite a while. When asked how long, he replied “When the J was back on Union and Delmar!”

Seligman can be found most morning working out at the J’s fitness center. His son Bob, who lives in San Diego, traveled home over the Memorial Day weekend to cheer on Lester. Bob said it’s comforting to know his day stays active.

“When my grandfather retired, we watched him decline, because he had no other interests,” said Bob Seligman. “My dad has two hobbies, weightlifting and he used to collect coins. He saw his father deteriorate and he was motivated to stay active. It keeps his mind active and his body active and he believes that part of his longevity.”

The elder Seligman also motivated another first time Senior Olympian, Bob Mondschein (a longtime friend of Bob Seligman).

“Seeing Bob’s father and how he’s done it every year, I thought it would be cool to do it, too,” said Mondschein, who medaled in the 500-yard swimming event.

The bionic man

George Ruh is a force of nature. “He has something like 37 stents in his heart and he can hit a pickleball like nobody’s business,” said Tracy Bowler, J director of marketing and communications.

On Memorial Day morning, after competing in track and field events and weightlifting, Ruh was on the J’s ballfield volunteering.

“This is my 26th year in the Senior Olympics, volunteering and competing,” Ruh said. “I really enjoy the people.”

Ruh is a retired educator who said he’s most proud of creating an alternative high school for the Pattonville School District in 1981. Ruh wrote a grant that helped form the POSITIVE school for technical individualized vocational education.

Now batting, Marty Maier!

During his career with the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees, Marty Maier was not known as a slugger. He compiled a .233 lifetime batting average with no home runs.

That didn’t stop the former major leaguer from crushing a half dozen homers on Memorial Day morning during the Senior Olympics home run derby. Mayer, 70, had always planned to compete in the annual event, and this year is his debut.

“I’ve wanted to do this for a while,” said Maier, an inductee in the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. “As soon as I retired, I told my wife, ‘I’m going to enter the Senior Olympics.’”

In 1979, after his playing days, Maier started scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals, where worked for 28 years, eventually becoming the team’s scouting director. Maier, a member of Central Reform Congregation, had a notable scouting career for the Cards. He was instrumental in the signings of Vince Coleman, Danny Cox, Rick Ankiel and Placido Polanco.