From softball to pickleball, and everything in between, sports, and just about any athletic activity, are what it’s all about for Newtown’s Jan Brown. She’s run in marathons and sprint triathlons, and run (as in organized) sports leagues. A participant of the Connecticut Masters’ Games — the largest amateur multisport, Olympic-style event for master’s athletes in the state — since 2003, Brown was named the Connecticut Masters’ Games Athlete of the Year for 2012.
Brown, this past year, qualified for the National Games in four sports: Softball, basketball, racquetball, and pickleball (we’ll get to what pickleball is all about). The National Games move to different locations every year. Last year they took place in Cleveland. She’s been to Texas and California, among other states.
A former administrator in a manufacturing company, and owner of the business Tomboy Tools, Brown is now retired. She certainly stands to keep busy, what with pickleball at Newtown Youth Academy, basketball at Club NewFit, softball all summer long, and now dodgeball. Brown joined a dodgeball league in Danbury to keep active with family members, including children and grandchildren. It’s the first time she’s played the popular schoolyard game since grade school. “Oh my god, it’s so much fun,” she exclaims.
Pickleball, which Brown says is the fastest growing sport for seniors, is similar to tennis. It’s played with paddles (not unlike to table tennis paddles), and with a wiffle-style ball, and a low net. The rules vary from those of tennis but are similar. It’s a great aerobic workout, Brown notes.
She’s been involved in athletics from an early age. Brown grew up in Norwalk where, as a child, she competed as a gymnast and a swimmer. She began running at the age of 38 and has since competed in a handful of marathons and ten half-marathons.
Brown plays in co-ed softball leagues and dodgeball with her husband, Bruce Goulart, also 63 and as athletic as his spouse. He’s quite the avid athlete himself. In fact, he’s run 125 or so marathons, including in 35 states and is a member of the 50 States Marathon Club, a group of runners working to reach the goal of running a marathon in all of the states.
“I strongly believe that a marathon is run — for the most part — in your brain and not your legs,” said Goulart, who recently participate in the Dustbowl Series, which is five marathons in five states (Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, and Kansas) in as many days. Goulart doesn’t run the whole time. “If you have to walk, you’d better walk. Especially if you do all five,” he notes.
Brown started playing in local women’s softball leagues in 1999 and continues to swing the bat. Recognizing a growing need for full court basketball for the 40-plus-year-old players, Brown began a drop-in program on Sunday mornings here in town in 2004. It is still going. She also runs, weight lifts, and plays in the Club NewFit Basketball League.
“Every day I do at least something. Something to have fun and move,” Brown said.
Softball is Brown’s biggest sports-related passion. She didn’t start playing organized sports until she was in her 40s. That’s at the time in which Brown was talking to her stepdaughter, Donna Walker, about softball. “It sounded like so much fun.” So they joined a co-ed league in Bethel 15-plus years ago, and the rest is history.
Brown has competed in three consecutive National games since 2007. In 2007, Brown represented both Massachusetts and Connecticut teams and finished ninth in her age group. In 2009, she traveled to Palo Alto, Calif., to play in the 50-plus softball tournament. Over the course of three days, she played in ten games in 100 degree weather, but still took home the silver medal, which is her best finish to date. Brown competed in the 3-on-3 basketball tourney in Houston and won a bronze in the 60-plus age group in 2011.
She is the softball coordinator for the Connecticut Masters’ Games and has been instrumental in growing the Connecticut Masters’ Games softball tournament from three teams to six from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. She has also been a board member for the Housatonic Valley Sports Organizing Committee in Danbury since 2008.
“The inspiration of seeing people my age and older — much older” playing sports is what keeps Brown motivated. She points out that 100-year-olds bowl, and 90-something men and women compete in racquetball in the Masters’ Games. “It’s just incredible.”
So does Brown plan to keep playing competitively for decades to come? “I plan on it,” she promises. “I really feel almost a responsibility to tell young people that they can compete in competitive sports well into their senior years. I’m adding sports as opposed to slowing down.”
Racquetball and pickleball were added to the mix a couple of years ago. She admits to slowing down — maybe just a little — on the fields and courts. “There’s no question that, at 63, I really can’t do as much as I did at 50. The key is don’t stop. The minute you stop you lose your motivation. You don’t recover as quickly.”
Only a few minor injuries such as muscle pulls and strains have sidelined Brown for short periods of time. She’s right back at it as soon as the body has recovered.
“As I am aging I tend to tire more quickly. I want to play five games of basketball in a day or five games of softball in a day but I can’t. The body just says whoa,” Brown said.
Newtown’s Doris Ratner, 77, plays basketball and racquetball with Brown. “She beats me every time,” Brown said of Ratner’s skills on the racquetball courts. “We all aspire to be Doris.”
Ratner appreciates all of Brown’s efforts in running the NewFit basketball league. “She really keeps it together. If it wasn’t for Janice I don’t think it would keep going,” she said.
Brown just loves seeing others play sports and share her passion.
“I want everybody to play all the sports they can possibly play because it’s just so darn fun,” Brown said.