Armenian Genocide Survivor an Olympic Gold Medallist

PASADENA, Calif.—In 1915, Joseph Manjikian faced the ultimate challenge—to survive brutality from the Ottoman Turk during the genocide.

Genocide survivor Joseph Manjikian of Pasadena, Calif., is surrounded by his great-grandchildren and gymnastic equipment which keep him mobile.
Genocide survivor Joseph Manjikian of Pasadena, Calif., is surrounded by his great-grandchildren and gymnastic equipment which keep him mobile.

Today, at a spry age 98, the challenge is somewhat different, to remain a “poster child” for people of his generation and continue winning gold medals in the Senior Olympics.

Manjikian is a power weightlifter, a pretty good one at that. He usually wins by default when no others in his age category show up. He lifts the mandatory 45 pounds and secures the gold.

As easy as that? Not so fast.

It takes a steady ritual of exercise and self-control to maintain that level of fitness. While most in his category are relegated to nursing homes or the cemetery, Manjikian gives old age a refreshing shot of adrenaline.

His home is like a gym with weights, exercise equipment and loads of encouragement from his grandchildren and great-grandchildren who stop by. They’re not surprised by his prodigious spirit, not in the least.

As a routine, Manjikian would not only work on his yard and fruit trees, but also do the same for his son. If fatigue sets in, it’s nothing that a good game of tennis wouldn’t cure.

“The grandkids would watch ‘bebo’ doing bench presses, light weights, pull-ups, ball exercises, yoga and the trampoline and it would inspire them,” said his son Haig, a physician and trainer. “You have to be a role model for your family and walk the talk. My father is an amazing individual.”

Together as father-son, they both came away with a gold medal in bench press. Although records may be sketchy, it might very well be the first time any son and genocide-surviving father accomplished such a feat in this country.
A copy of “Powerlifting USA” magazine, a resource for muscle-bulging lifters, shows a photo of Manjikian with his gold medal standing beside California Senior Olympics Director Dr. Harry Sneider.

It marked the first time anyone that age entered the event, let alone nailed the gold. The Senior Olympics is a rapidly growing organization with over 600,000 athletes participating throughout the United States.

Power-lifting is a very popular event in Southern California. Manjikian prides himself in being a power-lifter. He handled the bench press competition with such relative ease that even Sneider was amazed.

“If you work on tilling the soil and pruning your fruit trees, you will get the same benefit as Joe and have something back in return,” he points out. “The fitness end will be complemented by good crops and a nice garden.”

Manjikian hails from the village of Kessab where he survived the turmoil of 1915. He lives independently, does his own shopping and house-cleaning. Come weekends, he’ll stay with his son and do gardening with his great-grandchildren.

Grafting fruit trees is a workout in itself. He’s an expert at that, too. Except for a slight hearing impediment, Joe is mentally and physically very sharp and alert.

“Having good genes helps but being a non-smoker and working as an auto mechanic with gardening as a hobby has been a complete lifestyle for my dad,” says the son. “His family means the world to him—and quite the reverse. We continue to work out regularly for one hour as a family.”

The younger Manjikian is quick to maintain that physical activities and the right diet are conducive to a long and healthy life, even trying to keep up with your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Joe Manjikian continues to follow that path, regardless of his age and history. He has acquired not only self-esteem but personal growth, development and efficient time management as a productive senior athlete.

A gold medal puts this genocide survivor into another special category. 

The Armenian Weekly
Dec. 27, 2008


Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.

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