IT WAS ONLY a matter of time before John Buchleitner took up ice hockey. About the only sport the athletic 63-year-old hadn't tried was skating.
A resident of Severna Park for 34 years, Buchleitner had been a swimmer in high school and played intramural basketball, baseball and touch football in his youth.
When he went to work for Westinghouse Electric Corp., every time the company organized a new team, he was first to sign up.
Although he's only been skating for two years and admits to being a C-level skater (ice hockey skaters are categorized from A, the best, to the beginners' C), Buchleitner has progressed in championship style.
On Feb. 27, he and his senior ice hockey teammates from the Gardens Ice House rink in Laurel will board the bus for Lake Placid, N.Y., where they'll don the black-and-gold team uniforms to participate in the Winter Senior Olympic Games.
The team will play three elimination matches, with the possibility of two more -- in the semifinal and final rounds of the games, which run from Feb. 28 through March 1. The team also is scheduled to make a national television appearance on NBC's "Today Show" on Feb. 29.
"These are the very first Winter Senior Olympic Games," says team organizer and player Bill Wellington of Silver Spring. "Our team is called the Geri-Hatricks, a word play on the ages of our players -- all over 60 -- and `hat trick,' the hockey term for a player scoring three goals in one game."
Members hail from Baltimore, Washington and, of course, Severna Park. The coach is Terry Schnibble, who lives in Virginia.
According to Wellington, who is 78 and going strong, team members come from all skates of life. Several are former ice hockey pros, some are former collegiate players, and some just plain "rink rats."
Buchleitner discovered ice hockey when he stopped by the pro shop run by his wife, Barbara Buchleitner, at Benfield Pines Skating Rink in Millersville.
"I always liked the recreational angle of sports," says Buchleitner, "not the competition." Ice hockey offered a new way to test his athletic prowess, and he was soon looking for a bunch of guys closer to his age to skate with rather than the "young crowd" at Benfield. It turned out a senior league was being formed in Laurel.
Ice hockey demands lots of practice, at least two hours a week, and the right equipment. In describing the necessary gear, Buchleitner says, "You start from the bottom up. The most important thing is that the skates fit and are comfortable."
Full ice hockey attire includes shin or knee pads, padded hockey pants, shoulder pads, elbow pads, and gloves for protection from being slashed across the wrist by an opponent's stick. Headgear is a sturdy helmet.
Buchleitner has had to fit ice hockey into an already-crowded athletic schedule. Since retiring in 1994 from his job as an electrical engineer, he stays in shape swimming at the Community Center at Woods and riding his bike.
To pursue another pastime -- hiking -- he belongs to the Mountain Club of Maryland. On Wednesdays, he hikes for eight to 10 miles with friends from the club.
But he prefers the low-impact workout of cycling. "Biking doesn't hurt your joints," Buchleitner explains. "I skate for that same reason."
Although ice hockey is considered a rough sport, contact in senior league play is accidental, says Buchleitner, who plays right wing.
With a little encouragement from her husband, Barbara Buchleitner joined his cycling club. Run by the Ateaze Senior Center in Baltimore County, the club sponsors rides from April to November. Depending on weather, anywhere from 15 to 55 of its 300 members show up at the regular Friday outings along trails and roads throughout Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.
A couple whose idea of a "getaway" seems more like an event of Olympic proportions, the Buchleitners recently returned from Florida, where each January they test their endurance by bicycling from Cocoa Beach to Key West -- a distance of about 350 miles.
They accomplish this feat in about 10 days, and call themselves refreshed.
The only member of the household who wishes they'd spend more time at home is Bear, their yellow Labrador retriever.