“At least they come and have a little five-minute workout,” she said. “I’m promoting well-being.”
Promoting well-being has been a constant in Collins’s life, from her childhood in Thailand to a teaching career in Southern California and now as a senior athlete and part-time teacher of tai chi and line dancing.
Collins, a small woman who radiates energy and enthusiasm, said she learned to play badminton as a young girl in Thailand. She first came to the United States as an exchange student in 1965. After getting a bachelor’s degree in Bangkok, she returned to the United States and received a master’s in drama at Tufts University.
She and her husband, John, settled in the Los Angeles suburbs, where she taught mental fitness for elderly people in convalescent homes, in addition to adult education classes in English as a Second Language. After 29 years in California, she and her husband moved to Leesburg in 2006.
Collins sees badminton as a low-impact activity that can help senior citizens get needed exercise. When plans were in the works to move the Leesburg Senior Center into a former school building in downtown Leesburg, she urged facility planners to include indoor space for badminton.
“I said to them, ‘Set up a badminton court,’ ” she said. “In the other facility, we just had a low ceiling, [and] couldn’t do it. And when I saw [the high ceiling in] this facility, I said we could have a make-do badminton court, so I have been promoting it.”
She is also a proponent of tai chi, a Chinese martial art that is practiced for both its self-defense and health benefits. She learned tai chi as a teenager in Thailand and began teaching a class less than a year after moving to Leesburg. Her class meets weekly at the Leesburg Senior Center.
“Sucha’s a wonderful leader. She’s so patient with us, and she’s so professional at it,” tai chi student Susan Roland said. “She’s a wonderful person, and I love her dearly.”
Roland, 72, said the class has helped her with her balance and general sense of well-being. A retired nurse, the Leesburg resident has been taking the class for three years.
“Ever since I started tai chi, I have never been sick,” Roland said. “I think it’s because it’s so good for your circulation and your good feeling about yourself.”
Roland said that Collins has also been teaching what she calls “cane fu” to her tai chi class.
“Elderly people can’t carry baseball bats around to protect themselves, but they often have canes,” Roland said. “So she teaches us how to use a cane as protection. It’s very, very good.”
Collins also teaches line dancing at the Dulles South Multipurpose Center in South Riding. “I have no background [in dance], but I have rhythm, they told me,” she said. “I love to dance
. . .
so I volunteered to teach there.”
Her favorite sport is tennis.
“I play tennis almost every day,” she said. “That’s my workout.” She said she prefers playing tennis or badminton with friends to working out in a gym, which she finds boring.
It was her interest in tennis that first led her to compete in the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics in 2009. Collins said she was recruited to compete in the women’s doubles and mixed doubles. She won two silver medals that year.
In 2010, she competed in line dancing. Then, when the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics added badminton last year, she decided to focus on that sport, winning her first two gold medals in singles and doubles competitions in the 60-to-69 age group.
When she defends her gold medals in this year, she will be playing on a familiar court at the K2 Badminton Club in Sterling, where she plays nearly every Wednesday. The badminton competition is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 23.
The Northern Virginia Senior Olympics, which celebrate their 30th anniversary this year, will be Sept. 15 to 26, with 40 events at 18 locations across Northern Virginia. The deadline to register is Sept. 1. The fee is $12, which covers multiple events. Adults 50 and older who live in the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax or Falls Church or Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun or Prince William counties are eligible. Events will include track and field, swimming, tennis, racquetball, men’s basketball, volleyball, golf, eight-ball pool, bocce, badminton, tenpin bowling and Wii bowling. For a schedule of events or to register, go to www.nvso.us. Registration forms are also available at senior centers and senior residences, or by calling 703-228-4721.