Gold medalists

Camaraderie, determination take volleyball players to impressive national win

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Joanne C. Roman, left, and Virginia D. Buckles, PhD, display gold medals they won as part of the women's volleyball team at the 2011 National Senior Games.  PHOTO BY ROBERT BOSTON

BY Holly Edmiston

Two members of the Washington University School of Medicine community recently "brought home the gold."

Virginia D. Buckles, PhD, research professor of neurology, and Joanne C. Roman, financial planning manager in the Department of Medicine, are members of the Arch Rivals, the Gateway Region Volleyball Association’s senior women’s team. The team won the 55+ division at the National Senior Games held in Houston, Texas, in June, going 10-0 over four days of play, defeating rivals Chicago Heat in the finals.

Both women are lifelong volleyball players. Though their school careers predated Title IX, the law passed by Congress in 1972 to assure gender equity in federally funded educational programs, they both managed to play regularly, whether it was on church teams or with other groups, in high school and college, and by finding local clubs with teams in their adult years.

For Buckles, the Arch Rivals’ floor captain, this year’s tournament marked her fifth time competing at the National Senior Games. Roman marked her third time to the event.

Buckles says that regular physical activity is important and that most people enjoy it more when they’re playing games rather than trying to adhere to a strict workout.

“I’ve always believed that everybody should have a lifetime sport,” she says, noting that she’s passed her love of volleyball on to both of her teenage daughters.

Roman, who has a college-age son, says she feels similarly, and has always found time to fit volleyball into her lifestyle. Both are active in the St. Louis volleyball community, playing twice a week on different teams.

St. Louis' Arch Rivals, the Gateway Region Volleyball Association's women's team, won the gold medal at the 2011 National Senior Games.

For an event such as the National Senior Games, Buckles gathers the best adult women players from the St. Louis community to have a full roster of 15 active players. Doing so ensures that the team will always have the six  players needed at a tournament plus a few extra, despite any injuries or life events that may take priority.

“I like team sports and the camaraderie that comes with playing with other people,” says Roman. “That’s part of what makes advancing to an event like the National Senior Games so exciting. We meet people from around the country who share our interest in volleyball, and we learn about their lives.”

And while both women are serious about their sport, they do maintain a lighthearted attitude about the challenges associated with being “older” athletes.

Roman has Type I diabetes and plays while wearing an insulin pump. Buckles, whose arthritic knees have both been scoped, fully expects she’ll need knee replacement surgery one day. “When the time comes, I’ll get the replacement and try to schedule it around tournaments.”

And while sports drinks and athletic gear might be the commercial focus at more youth-oriented events, drug companies, retirement home displays and bone density screenings are more the norm at the National Senior Games.

“Age does take its toll,” Buckles admits. “We don’t jump as high, and most of us don’t dive. But I have no intention of stopping; I want to play as long as I can.”

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