Sisters procure gold at Senior Games

Anne Kalanty and Jan Birks are national champions. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO


It’s nice for sisters to take a family vacation.

It’s even nicer when they come home with valuable souvenirs.

That’s exactly how Anne Kalanty and Jan Birks spent their summer.

On June 17, Kalanty, of Fox Chase, and Birks, of Somerton, went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and brought home gold medals at the National Senior Games.

Kalanty, 92, won first place in tennis. Her younger sister Birks, 86, was victorious in the long jump. She also qualified for the 100-meter run, but wasn’t able to compete because of scheduling issues.

The pair went down with family and friends and while it wasn’t a relaxing time, it certainly was fun.

“Oh, I think it was a lot better because my sister was there with me,” said Kalanty, who along with her sister qualified for the national games by taking the top spot in the Pennsylvania Senior Olympics last year in Wilkes-Barre. “We have a friendly competition. It makes us want to win more because we’re both going for it. We’ve been that way our whole lives. But now that we’re going for gold medals in different events, it’s not the same. Now we want to both of us to win. It’s even more special because we both won.”

The pair have been successful in sports for their entire lives

They were both standout stars at Olney High School, and despite growing up and raising families, they’ve both remained active.

Both run and workout at home. Kalanty still plays tennis every week at the Northeast Racquet Club and does a lot of running. Birks has an exercise bike and a treadmill, and she’s on them every day. And while they enjoy putting in the work, there’s nothing like winning a gold medal.

“This was very exciting because last year we were the best in the state, you need to do that to make nationals,” Birks said. “But this time, we beat the best in the country. I had several jumps and they add them all up. Me and another girl jumped 8-1. But when you add them all up, I won. I didn’t even know I won, I had to wait and I heard my niece scream to say I won.

“It meant a lot because I did it with my sister. And it was fun to find out I was the best in the nation. And there were some from Nigeria there, too. They were very good. But I did better than all of them.”

Competing against the best is fun, but finding out you’re the best is the ultimate reward.

“The medal is so great,” Birks said. “On the back it says ‘long live the challenge.’ So we’re going to do that. The medal is so beautiful.”

Staying in tip top shape has been a priority for both sisters their entire lives, and it’s something they strive to do every week.

It’s kept them both healthy and ready to go, and no matter how old they get, they are still as strong as ever. In the championships, they both proved age is just a number, not an excuse to let up.

“I had to play down because there was nobody there in their 90s,” Kalanty said. “So I beat the younger players. I just like playing, it really doesn’t matter who I’m playing. But it was fun to beat them.”

“We work hard for this,” Birks said. “I just couldn’t wait to get there to compete, and then when you’re there and you win, it’s so much more special.”

The trip itself was an adventure too.

Since they were in New Mexico, they were able to meet up with family members who live on the West Coast.

Though there wasn’t a lot of time for socializing during the competition, there was plenty of time after the games were complete.

“We were busy, but we got to spend a lot of time with them,” Kalaney said. “It was great. There were 600 people there. It was great to play in front of such a big crowd. A lot of great athletes, too. Everyone who was there had a great time. I was happy that so many people in our families were able to make it.”

The hope is that it’s not the last time they’re there to see them compete in nationals. But nothing is given at this level of competition.

It’s back to the grind for next year.

“We want to win again, but we have to get back,” Kalaney said. “I’m trying to stay in shape. Rust doesn’t look good on you. So we have to keep active.”

“I’m looking forward to the next nationals, which isn’t for (two) years,” Birk said. “I don’t want to wish my life away, but the competition is so exciting. We want to qualify next year and win another state medal and then go back to nationals. We have something to look forward  to.”

They sure do — another family vacation.