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National Senior Games Returning to Pittsburgh in July

Photo courtesy National Senior Games Association
Photo courtesy National Senior Games Association

Charles Allie
Charles Allie

Why walk when you can sprint? For 75-year-old Charles Allie, sprinting has been a way of life ever since he was in the seventh grade living in the Northside, and he hasn’t stopped since.

Allie, a retired teacher who earned several city championship titles in high school, currently coaches a track club and holds multiple masters’ world records in sprint events. Like 11,000 others, Allie will be participating in the biannual National Senior Games, scheduled to be held in Pittsburgh this July.

Originally dubbed the U.S. National Senior Sports Organization, the first games were held in St. Louis in 1987 with 2,500 athletes. “It’s grown to where it is today at 11,000 athletes in 22 sports; it’s been amazing,” said Sue Hlavacek, interim CEO.

The National Senior Games are open to those age 50 and up…and there is no upper age limit. In fact, Hlavacek said that athletes over the age of 100 have qualified. Athletes compete against others within their same age groups.

“This is the largest multisport, Olympic-style event dedicated to athletes over the age of 50. While there are talented, highly competitive athletes, it is also about active living after 50,” said Jennifer Hawkins, executive director, SportsPITTSBURGH, a division of VisitPITTSBURGH.

In addition to the 22 sporting events being held throughout the city between July 7-18, Hawkins said that there will be wellness sessions about healthy living and aging well across the generations. She calls it a very social environment, with participants looking forward to seeing friends they’ve made on the circuit over the years.

Representative sports and venues will include pickleball, basketball, volleyball, shuffleboard and cornhole, all of which will be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center; swimming and racquetball at the University of Pittsburgh; track and field at South Fayette High School; a triathlon at Moraine State Park; plus cycling throughout the city and more. “There is something for every corridor of Pittsburgh,” said Hawkins.

The events are all open to the public, and spectators are both welcome and encouraged to cheer on the athletes.

It was a competitive process to become the designated city for the National Senior Games, and the bidding began back in 2019. This was not the first time that Pittsburgh was the host city: that happened in 2005 to much success. “Pittsburgh is affordable, summers are beautiful, and weather is consistent,” said Hawkins. Plus, in their off hours, participants and their families can enjoy world-class restaurants, beautiful hotels and an abundance of uniquely Pittsburgh summer activities.

“Not only does it meet our goals for economic impact and brings visitors to town, but it is an opportunity for our residents and local businesses to participate in the success of these games,” Hawkins added.

An athlete must first qualify in local or regional competitions across the country before being able to enter the National Games, which are usually held every two years. However, because of COVID, the games were canceled in 2021 and held in 2022 instead, but after this year, they will once again take place every other year.

Like the Olympics, medals are awarded in gold, silver and bronze categories in a ceremony after each competition is concluded.

Allie is not new to competition nor to medals; he trains for and competes in sprinting events all over the world. This will be his sixth time competing in the National Senior Games, starting at age 60, and he won four times.

“I had a couple of world records that I obtained in the Senior Games, which are still standing. Overall, I have 14 world records in my name,” said Allie, who, at age 75, will be the youngest in his age group for his events: 100 meter, 200 meter, and 400 meter, plus relays.

Carol McCollough and her daughter, Lori Plunkard
Carol McCollough and her daughter, Lori Plunkard

Lori Plunkard, 51, of Butler, will be competing in volleyball, and her mother, Carol McCullough, 79, will be playing basketball in the Senior Games. Plunkard picked volleyball up again last year after playing the sport in high school and college. McCullough was a phys ed teacher and was a founder of the Senior Olympics of Western Pennsylvania. She’s competed in the National Senior Games for years and in various events, such as volleyball, track and field, and bowling. While she has had some knee and hip issues, McCullough said, “The fun still outweighs the pain.”

One of the positives about sporting events focusing on seniors is that they can help dispel any preconceived notions some people may have about this under-recognized demographic and their capabilities.

“People don’t realize that those in their 60s, 70s, and 80s+ are still participating in athletics,” said Hlavacek.

She added that there is a big shift in more women coming aboard now. “Years ago, some of these women didn’t have an opportunity to play sports in high school or college. It’s really cool to see somebody start playing basketball at 50 years of age,” she said.

It is indisputable that being active is a boost for a person’s health and well-being, and the social aspect of the games is also beneficial. “It’s nice to be with likeminded people who really enjoy the same things that you do,” said McCullough.

“The whole thing has been nice because I’ve met so many new people, and watching some of these women in their 70s play gives you something to strive for,” added Plunkard.

According to Hawkins, it is important to showcase these participants and what the future can look like and what aging can look like for everyone. And Allie is a prime example.

“I just put my energy into running and competing, and I think it has enhanced my health over the years,” he said.

Hawkins added that the opportunity to have the games return to Pittsburgh is a big boon to the city. “We love to crown champions in the City of Champions,” she said.

To view the schedule or to volunteer, visit

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