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The heart of an Olympian

Greenspring’s Dick Ernst goes for gold

Created date

July 24th, 2012

With the world s attention now focused on the Olympic Games in London, athletes of all ages dream of becoming the next Michael Phelps or Monzavous Rae Edwards. Dick Ernst, who lives at Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va., is pursuing his own Olympic dreams. When I approached my retirement, I was interested in things that would keep me going and active, says Dick. Some of my friends were playing basketball and competing at the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics. I decided to join them. After an impressive 30-year career as the president and CEO of Northern Virginia Community College, a position that earned him the titles of Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine and CEO of the Year by the Association of Community College Trustees, Dick decided to devote himself more fully to the sports he loved since his youth. However, it was a decision that, years ago, he never thought he d be able to make.

Against the odds

When Dick was ten years old, he suffered from polio and spent a year of his young life in the hospital. I had to learn how to walk again, he says. But I was very determined. Once I recovered, I involved myself in many sports and really appreciated the fact that I could do so. In high school, I was the captain of the basketball team. As I grew older, raised my family, and had a career, I always found a way to participate in some sort of sports. The effort paid off. In 1999, less than a year after retiring, Dick s basketball team earned the right to compete at the Virginia Senior Games and the National Senior Games in Orlando, Fla. Ultimately, the team won five state basketball championships at the Virginia Senior Games. Then Dick decided to change it up. He turned his attention to track and field.

Support network

Working out in the Greenspring fitness center strengthened both my body and most specifically my legs, he says. It is what made it possible for me to participate in basketball and ultimately helped me turn my attention to track and field events. In the 2011 Northern Virginia Senior Olympics, Dick won a gold medal in the 60-meter dash and two silver medals for the standing broad jump and the long jump. I don t think I could have done it without all the support I receive, he says. I spend an hour a day in the Greenspring fitness center, and everyone is very supportive. The staff is really terrific. I use the treadmills and other cardiovascular machines to help me with my running. This past May, Dick again competed in the Virginia Senior Games, taking home two gold medals in the 50-meter dash and long jump, and a bronze medal in the 100-meter dash. His accomplishments earned him the right to compete in the National Senior Games in Cleveland, Ohio, next year. Everyone in the Greenspring fitness center remains very interested in my accomplishments, he says. I am also very lucky to have the support of my wife Betty and my eight grandchildren, all of whom live near me. Because they live close by, we are able to attend all of their sporting events, and they are able to come to Greenspring and run against me. It s fun and great training.

Looking forward

The powerful combination of Dick s talent, dedication, and positive attitude will no doubt serve him well as he continues to follow his Senior Olympic dreams. I plan to be a part of the games as long as I am able to do so, he says. It s important to always set aside time to exercise. It can help extend your life and is so crucial as you age. I ll be 80 on my next birthday, and I feel great. My focus now is on Cleveland. I ll be ready!