Tom Vartabedian: 16 Gold Medals and Counting

By Harry Derderian


Project SAVE sure got it right when they recently awarded Board member Tom Vartabedian with a Community Commitment Award.

Tom Vartabedian (L) with Ron Bouchard, New Hampshire State tournament director, following the gold medal presentation at the Granite State Senior Olympic Games.

That is certainly an understatement as we remind ourselves of Tom’s contributions to his community and all that is Armenian:

Certainly foremost, he’s been a proud parent, with wife Nancy, to children Sonya, Raffi, and Ara along with 6 “Vartabedian “ grandkids from 4-13 years of age.

His “Poor Tom’s Almanac” column for the Armenian Weekly, an article a week for 45 consecutive years (starting in 1970), which is slightly more than 2,300 articles.

Countless articles for the array of Armenian press in the United States, respecting the total Armenian community profile.

The AYF Olympics issue: By himself, creating 16-page inserts of pictures, stories, and anecdotes for 44 years! That comes to some 700 pages of Tom’s reflections on the AYF spirit, writing and taking pictures of generations—today’s participants, their parent’s participation, and their grandparent’s participation. Tom went to Olympics to write and take pictures; everyone else danced. His understanding wife Nancy understood this love affair Tom has with his AYF family during the family reunion called AYF Olympics.

Community leader and activist for 50 years: With the ARF, a genocide awareness activist, an AYF advisor for 30 years, moving tables at church picnics, superintendent of St. Gregory’s Sunday School for some 30 years, member of the Board of Trustees for 25 years, photographing community history in his beloved and closely knit Merrimack Valley community for years, AYF Olympic King, lead creator and proponent of Armenian Genocide studies in Merrimack Valley schools, and a Project SAVE Board member.

A photographer and journalist at the Haverhill Gazette for some 35 years before retiring, he won more than 40 awards from AP and UPI in New England for writing and photography. He still writes a guest column for the paper.

There is a lesser-known, other side to Tom Vartabedian, extending an energetic 24/7 lifestyle. At the tender age of 75, and after 2 heart conditions, including triple bypass heart surgery a while back, Tom is now reigning senior racquetball champ not only in Massachusetts but in New Hampshire. In each instance, he’s prevailed in tie-breaking situations against younger players to win gold medals and has earned national recognition as one of the top senior racquetball players in the country.

At the outset of each tourney, he entered the 75-and-over competition in both states but was the only entry so there was no tournament. Not to be denied and looking for some competitive activity, he entered the 65-and-over group and—testimony to his competitive nature—won that division in both states against younger players.

“I wanted to see where I stood against the younger players. … They really pushed me. … The tie-breakers seemed endless…it felt good…I was exhausted,” Tom noted.

In so doing, he qualified for the national senior singles tournament in Minneapolis, but could not attend.

In both state tournaments, he entered doubles competition, representing the Haverhill YMCA.

After a decade of tourney participation in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Tom has garnered 16 gold medals in senior singles and doubles racquetball competition.

As Tom has written about the athletic achievements and medals and trophies of the AYF youth for many years, it is time to write about Tom’s gold medals.

He has played racquetball for some 40 years and constantly seeks out younger players to test his skills and competitive fire. Tom attributes his success to an exercise regimen of playing against younger men and a good dose of mountain climbing.

Tom also set and achieved mountain climbing goals. By intent, he has climbed the highest mountain in each New England state and Mount Washington—the tallest mountain in New England at some 6,800 feet—6 times. One year, he and daughter Sonya celebrated her birthday with a climb up New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington.

On two other occasions to celebrate his birthday, he climbed Mt. Washington with friends.

Tom’s corrective heart surgeries were a success because of his good health from consistent racquetball competition and mountain climbing.

“The surgeons virtually guaranteed my recoveries due to consistent racquetball and mountain climbing, which had enhanced my health,” he explained.

“I taught my kids to play racquetball and they are now teaching my grandkids. … It is satisfying to see,” the proud father and grandfather said. Grandfather and grandson racquetball competition is not far off.

This commentary was meant to show “the other side” of a visible and proud Armenian who has been a consummate volunteer and who has told us about other Armenians for years. The story of Tom Vartabedian’s gold-medal wins is parallel to, and adds to, what we have known.

It is easy to ask, Where does he get the time for such a substantive agenda?

Year after year, Tom has written about an athlete winning a dash in impressive fashion, a young lady trying a shot put for the first time to try and help her chapter, a genocide survivor, a dedicated 40-year organizational volunteer, and the achievements of fellow Armenians in all areas of day to day life.

A true journalist’s journalist, a recent edition of the Weekly carried four substantive articles by Tom.

Now, in this other part of his life, with the conquest of heart conditions and athletic achievement, Tom Vartabedian has added two more gold medals to a lifetime of many gold star achievements as a respected professional and dedicated Armenian.

Project SAVE sure got it right.

This nationalist from Haverhill has no peer.

Source: Armenian Weekly
Link: Tom Vartabedian: 16 Gold Medals and Counting

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