What could be better than having an Olympic swimming legend attend an award presentation to honor an amateur Senior Games swimmer? John Naber, who dominated the 1976 Olympics with five medals, found a way.
NSGA honored 67 year old Vivian Stancil of Riverside with a Personal Best Award during the California State Senior Games athlete celebration at the Pasadena Senior Center. Vivian was a foster child who lost her sight at age 19, but persevered to become the first blind teacher in the Long Beach School System. When she retired, Vivian lost 125 pounds and became a competitive Senior Games swimmer. Read her inspiring profile on the Personal Best page for the rest of her incredible journey.
Naber expressed his personal admiration and then took it to the next level. “When you come out on the pool deck, there’s an attitude of joy that says ‘Anybody can do this, not just me.’ When we see where you have come from, you’ve inspired us all,” he told the gathering of 200 California Senior Games athletes and supporters. “I know you have 175
medals to your credit, but just for the next few minutes I would be honored if you would allow me to place one of my medals around your neck.”
Vivian, like the attendees, was emotional in her response. “This is so amazing. I’m so grateful. And to wear this medal – it’s really heavy! I just want to say whatever problems you have, you can get over them. I just want to go out in my community and tell seniors about health and fitness, and to get them to try Senior Games like I did.”
(Left to right) Naber, Vivian, Riker and California Senior Game’s Cynthia Rosedale
In addition to her remarkable achievements as a senior swimmer who has qualified and competed in the National Senior Games since 1995, NSGA CEO Marc T. Riker also noted Vivian’s ongoing community service as another reason for the recognition. In 2013 Stancil created The Vivian Stancil Olympian Foundation to assist at risk youth and seniors to participate in athletics, and was also recently named to the City of Riverside Commission on Disability.
Naber may have had the show-stopper with his Gold Medal tribute, but another equally remarkable thing happened when Vivian announced that one of her now grown early learning students, Devin Coulson, had traveled all the way from Euliss, Texas to testify to the early inspiration given by her teacher.
Vivian was also among 20 senior athletes who received grants for state games entry fees in a national essay contest hosted by Post Shredded Wheat earlier this year, and was formally awarded her grant during the ceremony. We also enjoyed comments of support by Dan Nazarek with Humana, who immediately connected with Vivian, explaining he was born in Riverside and still lives there.
We enjoyed great media coverage too. One week before the event, KABC -TV Eyewitness News in Los Angeles aired a feature about Vivian in their 5 pm telecast, and the story was also picked up by nearly a dozen other local ABC affiliates around the country. In addition, the L.A. Times plans to run a story after Vivian competes in the California games on June 22. Other community newspapers and online resources also publicized our presentation.