View Full Version : Standards Can't Stop this Golden Couple from Competing in Senior Olympics

11-12-2007, 07:07 PM
Running with heart

Couple compete in Senior Olympics for fun and health
Michael Christopher (sports@couriernews.com)
Assistant Sports Editor

Someone once said age ain’t nothing but a number, but a local couple in the River Valley has been competing in the Senior Olympics for heart, health and fun, which may prove that theory right.

Pentecostal preacher, motivator and runner Johnnie Hopgood Sr. of Russellville and his wife Joyce, have accomplished more in three months than most seniors accomplish their lifetimes. They competed in the Nationals of the Senior Olympics in Louisville, Ky. of this year. Whether its running, jumping or throwing nothing seems to keep the spirits of the Hopgood’s down.

“I’ve always liked to run and this is a way to have fun and keep myself in shape,” Johnnie Hopgood said.

“People ask us all the time what’s that?” They usually think its the Special Olympics [laughing],” Joyce Hopgood said.

Senior Olympics description

The Senior Olympics are for seniors 50 years of age or more. Every five years, athletes move to a different age bracket. The bracket begins with persons ages 50-54. Events include archery, badminton, basketball, bowling, cycling, golf, horseshoes, race walk, racquetball, road race, softball, table tennis, tennis, track and field, triathlon, shuffleboard, swimming and volleyball. Participants will compete one day in track events and the next day in field events.

The Arkansas state games are held each September in Hot Springs. If a participant does well enough, they can qualify for nationals, which rotates to a different location every two years.

“It’s not uncommon to see people in their 90s or 100s competing,” Hopgood said. “In fact, I’ve seen a 100-year-old man who ran the quarter-mile in 55 seconds.”

Gray Fox awakens

Because of their Pentecostal beliefs, the Hopgood’s do not wear shorts while competing. Johnnie wears a gray runners suit, for which he’s earned the nickname “Gray Fox,” while his wife, Joyce, competes in dresses. While many may make fun of the two competitors for their wardrobe, they usually end up in awe as they find themselves beaten or surprised by the efforts of the reverend and his wife.

“God is first in our lives,” Mr. Hopgood said. “We will miss an event because of church duties and what not.”

Love for running

The love for running began as a kid for Hopgood, who used to chase and catch rabbits in open fields with his brothers.

“My mother had a large family, had 13 children and we were poor,” he said. “I used to catch rabbits. My smaller brothers would run them out of a field and I would run down and catch them.”

His love for running grew in high school. When Hopgood was at Brinkley High School in 1968, he had the opportunity for a 100 and 200 meter tryout run with the United States Olympic team. At the time, Hopgood had just recently married and become a preacher. He said his stayed true to his Pentecostal beliefs and turned down the offer for fear they might ask him to sin against his religion.

“I’ve always liked to run,” Hopgood said. “In high school, I ran a lot.”
Hopgood said the older he got, the more he began to worry about his weight. He said he wanted to run because he felt it would help him with his health and he had always enjoyed the freedom it gave him.

“I began to gain weight and I thought, ‘Oh I need to do something,’ so I started running a little bit. I didn’t know anything about this Senior Olympics, I just kind of stumbled upon them. Someone told us about it and we did it.”

Hopgood immediately had an impact in the Senior Olympics in 1994, as he set the record in the triple jump the first year the event was held. However, he hurt himself crossing the finishing line. As he rolled towards the finish line he broke the radial arm head off of his elbow.
“With all pain and the medicine I had to find an alternative,” he said. “I found running was my medicine.”

Six months later, the bone was dead and had to be cut out. Hopgood has no elbow. The injury forced Hopgood into early retirement. These would be the first of other injuries to come, but his wife Joyce said she became his biggest cheerleader and attended all of his meets.

“I started competing in them and it’s helped me a whole lot,” he said. “It’s kept me alive.”

“I like to think of him as the energizer bunny because he just keeps on going and going,” Joyce said.

He began competing in only track events, but has now since moved on to other events. He encouraged his wife to join him about the time she was about the milestone age.

“He told me you need to find something to do when you turn 50,” she said. “I said I never done anything my whole life, so I started with the javelin and shot-put.’”

The two began to compete together and traveled to meets around the country.

“He didn’t do all the field events, still I started doing them because I wasn’t running,” Joyce said. “The days I was competing, he didn’t have anything to do, so he decided he liked it.”

Hurt so good

Because of nerve problems and pain from his elbow in 2005 Hopgood had shoulder surgery. On March 13, 2006, he had triple bypass heart surgery and this past April 19, one of his vein grafts collapsed and he had a stint put in his artery. Hopgood was allergic to the blood thinner Plavax, which forced him into a four-day hospital bed stay. Despite all of the pains and surgeries, he still participated in two regionals, one national and the state games, which took place in September.

“I thank the Lord everyday for all he has helped me through,” he said. “I was running then just to take care of myself and keep my body up, but competition gives you a little incentive. You get to compete and its just a lot of fun.”


Jonnie Hopgood of Russellville throws the discus during the 2007 Arkansas Senior Olympics on Sept. 28, 2007 at Hot Springs High School.

Scott Hutchinson
11-12-2007, 07:21 PM
Well I'll give em credit for sticking with their convictions.

11-12-2007, 07:38 PM
The correct title would be, "Golden Couple stick to their CONVICTIONS," or something along those lines...

Dan, do you walk upright, or is one of your legs shorter than the other? Your presentation of facts have a slant that would rival the quality construction of Pisa.

11-12-2007, 08:59 PM
The correct title would be, "Golden Couple stick to their CONVICTIONS," or something along those lines...

Dan, do you walk upright, or is one of your legs shorter than the other? Your presentation of facts have a slant that would rival the quality construction of Pisa.

Sheesh ... Jekyll .... the title was the only commentary I placed on this article ... mainly to grab folks attention ....

Give it a rest ... this is a feel good story ... enjoy it.

11-13-2007, 10:09 AM